In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back. (Albert Camus)
This past year has been one of heartbreak and pain within the Church. We’ve found ourselves face down on the earth, crying for our Church, our children, and our world. Together, we’ve felt the heartache of betrayal and mistrust as we’ve watched some of our leaders crumble into darkness and depravity. Often, we’ve looked around at our world and wondered at the chaos.
It’s a dark time for the Church. But it isn’t our first dark age. We’ve withstood worse, really, we have. Our Church has lived through philandering popes, through bloody persecutions, through mistakes, heresies, and despair. Many of them more recent than we’d like to admit. Darkness is always around us, pressing against the skin of the Body of Christ.
How do we keep the darkness at bay? Fasting and prayer. The foundation for any spiritual healing will always be fasting and prayer. “Renounce yourself in order to follow Christ,” writes St. Benedict amid the ruins of his own world, “do penance; love fasting.”
Does anyone really love fasting? Fasting is hard. Fasting is deprivation. We come up with a laundry list of excuses for abandoning the practice Christ called us to and imitated for us in the Gospels. I’m pregnant, I’m nursing, I’m young, I’m old, I labor, I exercise – I know that I can find a dozen excuses and have used them all at one time or another. Maybe you have too?
When I try to kid myself that fasting isn’t practical for me, I think of my friend, Emily. She’s my age, with more children, more work, more demands on her life each day; but she fasts with a joy and a devotion I’m longing to imitate. I remember especially her fasts from flavors during pregnancy and while breastfeeding: she ate unseasoned, nutritious, dull foods. She denied her cravings and ate simply to nourish. When she can, she fasts from whole meals.
Emily isn’t Catholic, but her dedication to our most neglected discipline would delight St. Benedict himself When I ask her how she pushes through she tells me that she thinks of Jesus, and His love for the person she’s fasting for. She asks for His help, and He delivers.
We are at a point again in the life of the Church where excuses will not do. We need to look back at the wisdom of the Church fathers and step into the practice of fasting again with our whole hearts.
A New Season
Lent is almost upon us again. Lent, the great season of fasting and reparation. The season of renewal, when the whole earth prepares for the rebirth of Glory. The long fast is more than merely an opportunity to prepare ourselves for Easter, it is a time to die ourselves – with Christ and in Him. The Great Fast is an opportunity to offer up our penances for the whole Body of Christ.
The world is dark. We live in bloody and painful times. We want to fight it with its own weapons: with activism and revolution. Those aren’t wrong responses, but some demons can only be conquered with fasting and prayer. Activism without fasting will fall short, as we’ve seen again and again. This is because activism looks outward at the heartbreaking world around us, but fasting trains us to look toward Christ alone.
When we keep our eyes on Christ, the whole view changes. Like a candle glowing in the night, He warms us and lights us up from within. Look, see the home Christ has made for Himself in each of us! Watch Him nestle in His Eucharistic Body beneath your heart, whispering Hope against that outer darkness. And maybe, as we draw closer to Lent, you’re being reminded, as I am that:
In the midst of hate..there was, within me, an invincible love. In the midst of tears..there was, within me, an invincible smile. In the midst of chaos.. there was, within me, an invincible calm. (Albert Camus)
The Invincible Child who has already conquered is waiting to be welcomed into our whole lives. This Lent, let’s give Tiny, Eucharist Christ a chance to heal us from within. Let’s listen to His soft voice, and let’s begin the process of driving away the demons the beset us. We can fast with Him and for Him, unite our hunger to the pain of the Cross and embrace the joy He offers.
What is Fasting?
Fasting is not a break from bad habits. You can’t fast from cruel words or sinful actions. Fasting is the sacrifice of a good and necessary thing – food – for a better, more essential purpose.
Fasting is simply the restriction and reduction of food intake. Long ago, Church communities fasted intensely and in unity. Instead of choosing personal devotions for the season, they went into the season knowing what was expected and united together to support each other in this challenging devotion.
Lent is a whole season of fasting, even into the early 20th century, Catholics fasted every day of Lent. This fasting requirement permitted one meal each day, holding to the wisdom of the desert fathers for those unaccustomed to more intense, monastic fasts. After Vatican II, though our bishops have gradually lessened the requirements until we’re down to only two days of required fasting each year.
In this season of spiritual attack, maybe we should rediscover the wisdom and power of the traditional fast.
It’s time to reclaim the Church’s best weapon against evil. Fasting is a living prayer – a way of turning the body into a cry to God for mercy. When we fast, we allow God to have that little suffering and use it. It also unites us to God in a more intimate way. Christ fasted for forty days in the wilderness; for 2000 years, His Church has imitated Him in this.
If you truly can’t fast from meals each day, try fasting from flavors. Eat simple, wholesome, and uninspiring meals instead of your favorites. Avoid eating between meals. Don’t eat out. All of these can become steps toward full fasting. As the Orthodox saint, Theophan the Recluse reminds us, it’s essential to “Throw out of your head the idea that you can, through a comfortable life, become what you must be in Christ.”
The Invincible Summer
This Lenten season, as we join Christ in the desert, the hope within us will grow brighter. The dark of winter is passing away, new life is bursting out around us. But winter never goes without a fight. In Lent, we confront that darkness as we anticipate the Resurrection with fasting and prayers.
The world is dark. Spiritual winters are long and cold. They feel isolating, sometimes despairing. But we have within us the strength of Love Himself, and so we can confront the winter darkness. We can defeat the demons of today that press against the Church to crush her. We can discover, within us the joy of the “Invincible Summer,” Christ Himself, Who warms and heals, challenges and guards us.
Let’s clear the way for Christ to push back against the world, by entering into this Lenten season empowered by the discipline of fasting.