As you know, Lent is here. During this holy time of contemplating God’s ultimate sacrifice, we see that the season is specifically geared toward sacrifice. It is within Christ’s sacrifice that our sacrifices are made complete and meaningful.
The Church, through its wisdom, has determined to sacrifice collectively and communally through a universal fast. Fasting is not only comprehensive, it is also collective–when we fast during the period of Lent, we do it together, as a Church, and we fast for the whole world who God loves and for whom He “gave His only begotten Son,” (John 3:16), for whose resurrection we are preparing during this very period.
It is important for us to make sacrifices in order to bring our bodies into subjection (1 Corinthians 9:27) and prepare ourselves for the feast of the Resurrection. Because of this intention, we may focus entirely on our fasting from certain foods and attend only and specifically to what goes into our mouths and stomachs. This sort of fast, where each person only focuses on his or her mind, body and soul, is an incomplete fast. And since we are fasting together as a Church, we should fast the way that God and His Church intend.
We read about true fasting in Isaiah: “Is this not the fast that I have chosen… Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him… If you extend your soul to the hungry And satisfy the afflicted soul… The Lord will guide you continually…” (Isaiah 58:6-11). It is clear that during this time, as we abstain from certain foods and focus on the strengthening of our souls, it is of the utmost importance that we attend to the the most needy amongst us: the hungry, the lonely, the sick.
In abstaining, when we would usually indulge, we should instead give to the poor. Abstaining is not only based on sacrifice, but the importance of fasting is seen most vividly in the transforming of that sacrifice for the greater good: “Be generous with these brothers and sisters, victims of misfortune. Give to the hungry from what you deprive your own stomach” (Gregory of Nyssa).
With this in mind, we cannot truthfully say we are fasting if the Lord’s brethren do not have a place in our hearts, prayers, and also our almsgiving. We must remember the question that St. James has put forth to all of us: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:16).
So what good is our fasting, if it only disciplines our bodies without effectuating real lasting change in our world–even if that world means taking the time we would have spent at the movies and spent it visiting an elderly person in a nursing home or taking the money we would have spent on lunch and giving it to someone more needy than us? God wants, and the world needs, us to fast the way the Lord has chosen. May the Lord of this Blessed season conform in us a fast that is both acceptable to Him and effective to His world.
By: Ann Marie Toss