Monday, November 17, 2003

'Tis the season to be fasting

Falalalala, lalala.

Seriously. Advent, contrary to popular practice, is a time of preparation for the arrival of our Lord. What would you do if someone important was coming to visit your house? Wouldn't you clean things up? Why would you not do the same to your spiritual house when Christ is coming? So, rather than searching for Christmas presents or putting up the tree (which, strictly speaking, shouldn't go up until Christmas Eve), why not pray and fast?

Prayer and fasting are linked together. If you only pray, then you will not make any spiritual progress. To progress in the love of Christ, one must discipline one's body. The way to do this is by foregoing good things (food) for the greater good (God). Have you ever read the stories of the early Christian martyrs? How were they able to bear such terrible burdens for the faith? They were able to stand firm where we crumble because they had died to self through fasting, and were thus able to choose God when every fiber of their earthly being said to submit to the world.

Listen to what St. Jerome says about fasting, in a letter to a young girl who was seeking to lead a virginal life: After you have paid the most careful attention to your thoughts, you must then put on the armour of fasting and sing with David: "I chastened my soul with fasting," and "I have eaten ashes like bread," and "as for me when they troubled me my clothing was sackcloth." Eve was expelled from paradise because she had eaten of the forbidden fruit. Elijah on the other hand after forty days of fasting was carried in a fiery chariot into heaven. For forty days and forty nights Moses lived by the intimate converse which he had with God, thus proving in his own case the complete truth of the saying, "man doth not live by bread only but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord." The Saviour of the world, who in His virtues and His mode of life has left us an example to follow, was, immediately after His baptism, taken up by the spirit that He might contend with the devil, and after crushing him and overthrowing him might deliver him to his disciples to trample under foot. For what says the apostle? "God shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly." And yet after the Saviour had fasted forty days, it was through food that the old enemy laid a snare for him, saying, "If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread." Under the law, in the seventh month after the blowing of trumpets and on the tenth day of the month, a fast was proclaimed for the whole Jewish people, and that soul was cut off from among his people which on that day preferred self-indulgence to self-denial. In Job it is written of behemoth that "his strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel of his belly." Our foe uses the heat of youthful passion to tempt young men and maidens and "sets on fire the wheel of our birth." He thus fulfils the words of Hosea, "they are all adulterers, their heart is like an oven;" an oven which only God's mercy and severe fasting can extinguish. These are "the fiery darts" with which the devil wounds men and sets them on fire, and it was these which the king of Babylon used against the three children. But when he made his fire forty-nine cubits high he did but turn to his own ruin the seven weeks which the Lord had appointed for a time of salvation. And as then a fourth bearing a form like the son of God slackened the terrible heat and cooled the flames of the blazing fiery furnace, until, menacing as they looked, they became quite harmless, so is it now with the virgin soul. The dew of heaven and severe fasting quench in a girl the flame of passion and enable her soul even in its earthly tenement to live the angelic life. Therefore the chosen vessel declares that concerning virgins he has no commandment of the Lord. For you must act against nature or rather above nature if you are to forswear your natural function, to cut off your own root, to cull no fruit but that of virginity, to abjure the marriage-bed, to shun intercourse with men, and while in the body to live as though out of it.

Note: Adam and Eve lost paradise because they broke the fast! If we are to live the life of angels while still in this present life, we must discipline ourselves, and fasting is the preferred way. In fact, Christ himself fasted for forty days: do you think he needed to do it, or rather that he did it as an example to us?

Let me invite you to join us Byzantine Catholics in the traditional St. Phillip's Fast, which starts forty days before Christmas. It is a mild fast, not like Lent, but still should be productive in preparing the soul for Christmas. Here's how to do it: abstain from meat and dairy products on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It's that simple! No meat, no cheese, no milk, no cream. Can you do that for God?

Think about it this way: if you are unable to fast, how can you expect to break habits of sin?

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