He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Love it to Death: The Fast of Love

I ate very little this morning.  In retrospect, it felt very much like a fast.  And I did a 60-minute workout before getting a small meal for lunch.  The time I gained from spending less time eating was very valuable, because I was able to spend more time praying.

There are many reasons to fast.  We might fast as a form of protest against injustice, for example.  Or we might fast to lose weight because we have previously indulged in immoderate consumption.  Alternatively, we might fast because we suffer from a condition like anorexia which keeps us from recognizing our healthy bodies and drives us to starve ourselves.

There are also religious reasons to fast.  We might fast as a penance for wrongs committed.  We might fast simply because it's a religious obligation tied to a season like Lent in Christianity or Ramadan in Islam.  We might fast to save money in order to give to the poor.  We might even fast simply because the practice of self-denial helps us to become more selfless and loving.

Recently, I took a trip to Colorado to visit my god-daughter and the whole family.  I found myself fasting a lot while I was with them, not because I couldn't have gone and gotten food.  It wasn't a penance, or a season of fasting.  I wasn't trying to lose weight, nor was I protesting anything.

I fasted, and not intentionally, simply because I was experiencing the love of the family life and enjoying the time spent with them and the time spent in prayer.  I probably spent as much time praying the Rosary as I spent eating on that trip, and it was wonderful.

I spent a lot of time reading the Bible as a child and into my teenage years (and more time studying it as an adult).  One thing I noticed is that fasting is a common occurrence in Sacred Scripture, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament.

For example, the Gospel of Mark begins with the story of John the Baptist, and it mentions that he spent much of his time in the wilderness.  It also mentions that his diet consisted of locusts and wild honey, that he wore clothing made of camel's hair, and that he preached repentance.

Shortly thereafter, it tells of Jesus going into the wilderness for forty days.  It is during this time that Jesus also fasted and resisted the temptations of Satan.  He did this for several reasons: so that we might have an example of fasting to emulate, so that it could be clear that the temptations of the evil ones are to conquered with fasting and knowledge of Scripture, and ultimately so that we might be saved.

Jesus didn't fast because he really needed to learn what it was like to be hungry.  He would have already known hunger from normal life in 1st-century Judea.  God sent His only-begotten Son to become man, to live a life that was a holy example, and then die in our place so that we might share in the gift of eternal life.  Jesus's life, death, and resurrection were all the acts of Love Himself.

In short, He fasted because He loved us.  The First Lent was also the Fast of Love.

It is the fast of Love which we should emulate when we fast.  It is good to fast as a penance, and yet this fast of penance should also be undertaken because we love God so much that we want to separate ourselves from our sins by penitential acts and thereby draw closer to Love Himself.

It is good to fast to strengthen ourselves against the selfishness that so often leads us to succumb to the temptations to do evil, to do anything which is not an expression of radical love for God and our neighbor.  This fast of self-denial should always be undertaken for the sake of making ourselves more  loving, more like Christ who is the Son of Love Himself.

It is even good to fast out of obedience to the Church, the Bride of Christ who is sanctified by Christ the Bridegroom and ever seeks to lead us into ever deeper communion with Christ.  Not only should we undertake the fasts of the Church because we ought to obey Her, and because we love Her, but also because we love Jesus Christ who established the Church out of His love for us.

In this way, each fast we undertake is a fast of love, and we follow in the narrow way of the Son of God who loved us unto death.  It is in following in this narrow way of the Fast of Love that we love to death our sinfulness which keeps us separated from God.

It is the Fast of Love which helps us to love to death our selfishness that keeps us from fully participating in the self-emptying and eternally self-giving love of God shown to us in all glory and power through the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of our Lord.

It is in the Fast of Love that we love to death our overweening pride that keeps us from heeding the words of Love Himself, "If ye love me, keep my commandments."

Note:  The above is a picture I took of a silver-plated icon of John the Baptist that I purchased from orthodoxmonasteryicons.com as a gift for my brother.

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