Sunday, February 15, 2004

Fast or Die!


We're getting close to Lent, which means that it's time to talk about fasting. In fact, if you are Eastern Catholic or only want to be, the fast has already started. We ease ourselves into it. Today was the last day to eat meat (called Meatfare Sunday--it is our Carnivale). Next Sunday is the last day to eat cheese or dairy products until Easter Sunday. This strict fast is not obligatory, but it is a wonderful practice, recommended by saints throughout the ages. Let's not even talk about the bare minimums in fasting: would you want to love your wife the bare minimum amount required? No! If you love God completely, with heart, mind, soul, and strength, you will want to do more than the minimum.

Fasting is not an optional part of Christian life. It is not a discarded medieval practice, suitable for fervid mendicant friars tramping up and down Europe, but is a spiritual regimen that is commanded by Christ himself. To emphasize my point, I turn to The Homilies of St. Thomas Aquinas, available from Roman Catholic Books. In his homily for the first Sunday of Lent, Brother Thomas says that there are four reasons to fast: 1) God commands it, 2) Christ fasted, 3) failure to fast leads to great harm, and 4) great benefits come to those who fast.

1) God has commanded it. Thomas notes that the first moral command ever given to humans was a fast: "Don't eat of the fruit of the trea of knowledge of good and evil!" The Original Sin was fast-breaking. Let no one ever again mock the gravity of the sin of eating a hamburger on Friday!

2) Christ fasted forty days before he started his public work. If it was necessary for Jesus, who was without sin, to purify himself for proclaiming the Kingdom, how can it be unnecessary for us?

3) Lack of fasting leads to evils: "He who is not willing to fast will have to fast forever from the fruit of eternal life. . . ." Since it is a command from God that we fast, failure to follow this command can lead us to eternal damnation. This is the reason for the title of my post: if you are unwilling to fast, you are risking eternal death, and that's not me talking, but St. Thomas Aquinas, who draws on the ancient traditions of the Church. Does that burger still look good to you?

4) The benefits of fasting are manifold, but consist first in the mortification of vices. Vices are habits towards evil things, just as virtues are habits towards the good. You know how difficult a habit is to break, do you not? Fasting is a way to break such habits. If you can avoid food, you can avoid lust, or avarice, or pride, or whatever other deadly sin keeps you from God.

May God grant you a joyous season of repentance, prayer, and fasting!

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