Just this past week, I happened to come across the below words from the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, a religious institute of the Roman Catholic Church located in Nashville, Tennessee. I thought they were powerful, particularly as we prepare for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. May these words both bless and convict us, reminding us of the true meaning of the Easter season.
“As Christians, we know, at least theoretically, that we are meant to take up our cross and follow Christ. There is a breaking, a death that must occur before we can experience resurrection. Easter is not about Christ returning to the same old life; it is about new life, Eternal Life. The same is true of our own resurrection, on the Last Day, but also the resurrections that follow our daily deaths to self.
But do we attempt to assuage the pain of those daily crosses by seeking comfort in the goods of this world? Food, alcohol, entertainment and numerous other pleasurable goods can easily be used as pain killers or may act like decoys, which lure us away from the eternal good to which the Cross leads, by presenting passing goods that are more immediately within our reach. That is not to say that the goods of this world are evil; the problem is that we tend to turn goods into gods. We seek comfort and consolation in these things rather than in God who is our Comfort and Consolation.
The Catholic tradition of fasting directly counteracts this tendency. We recognize the goodness of created things, yet at certain times, such as Lent, we deny ourselves these earthly comforts in order to refocus and recommit ourselves to following Christ on the Via Crucis which leads to Life and Resurrection. Fasting is not about losing weight, not even about increasing our self-mastery, although it certainly can have these and other positive side effects.
The reason for our fasting – be it from food or drink, T.V. or radio, social media, etc. – should be to increase our hunger for “the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:32-33). Jesus is the Bread which sustains us in our journey through life, so whatever form of fasting we can take on to help us recognize our deep need for him is worth the sacrifice.”
I love it. Thank you for sharing. I love your blog.
I recently heard one Orthodox Priest put it this way. “We aren’t giving up bad things to make room for Christ as if we can just return to bad things when Lent is over. That’s not fasting. We are giving up good things to make room for better things, and we definitely shouldn’t be doing the bad things ever. We are making room for what Christ came to do for the world and how that is to change our humanity and our soul.”
And also, at least in the Orthodox tradition, since I’m Orthodox, is that fasting also acts as a way of cleaning house, so to speak. It prepares a clean and spotless place for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and for the body of Christ that we take during communion. <3 I'm sure that's how Catholics see it too.
The purification of our temple (body) is so critical because the Holiness of the body of Christ is dangerous for evil. Evil cannot endure His Holiness. This is why we seek forgiveness and absolution throughout our lives, right? To refuse to be the host of evil… while refusing evil, I might add.
In the Orthodox tradition, we never viewed any of this in a juridical way, such as punishment or judgment. That was a very Roman innovation that changed centuries after the early church. The early desert fathers bare this out. It changed the nature of our relationship with God in the West. Life is either alignment and protection from the enemy, or it is indulging in the passions and being handed over to the enemy by our own will. Unfortunately, we have a habit of preferring hell over heaven because hell provides immediate gratification without much regard for eternity. But being turned over to the enemy is not punishment as much as it is meant to drive us back into the arms of the Father. It is love. For God loved us enough to let us experience the repercussions of our sins so as to spur us back into His loving embrace. That is not judgment. If we do not return to His embrace and experience hell, we have not loved the Father. That is not judgment. That is sorrow. He does not punish us with hell. We sought it by freely rejecting the free gift of His love.
Life is either the attainment of theosis or destruction. God does not have to punish you. You choose evil, or you choose Christ (This is why we have Christianity to help us with this huge undertaking). Lent is the pinnacle of our Christian experience in choosing Christ and celebrating what He did for the cosmos and for mankind, but it should also be our experience throughout the year, wouldn't you agree? I can see that you do.
And this is why both Catholics and Orthodox have a fasting calendar and our prayers. We continually orient our hearts and our bodies toward the indwelling of the Lord. Theological differences aside, our traditions understand the importance of seeking purification and the attainment of His infilling and blessing during this Holy season. While we start this out of compulsion, it should transform us where we do this out of our love for God and our desire for Him to shine through our lives so that others may be saved. And I should say that biblically, blessing is alignment and protection… not the bestowal of prizes as many Protestants make it out to be. (I was one once upon a time.)
God bless! <3 Keep up the good work!
Rachel, thank you so much for your thoughtful insights. I really enjoyed reading and you raise some great points. I particularly enjoyed your point about choosing Christ and praising Him for what He did for us *throughout* the year, not just during lent…that is certainly the essence of our faith. I think of the scripture from Joel 2:12 “‘Yet, even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart…'” A continual turning to and returning to when we veer off path, as we’ll inevitably do. A lot of wisdom in your words, thank you again for sharing. God bless you!
Right! We are to return to Him daily. Paul talked about dying to our flesh daily. But how do we do that? Through Christ. By turning to Him in all things. <3