The purpose of our Lenten disciplines are not to make us miserable. Do you have a clear understanding of what fasting is really about?
by Kathryn M. Cunningham, MAPS | Source: Catholic.net

       Heaven knows that we are a very important people!  After all, we have demonstrated that we can call, we can tweet, we can text we can download, we can upload and we have a Facebook account.  We possess I-phones, blackberries, razors, blue tooth devices, I-Pods and plenty of apps.  We are never out of touch and that proves how very important we are.  Doesn’t it? A wise Italian born priest I know once told me; “I have never seen a people (Americans) so obsessed about communicating with each other and so unable to accomplish it!”  When was the last time you actually greeted a person on the street, talked to your neighbor “over the fence” or welcomed a stranger in your church whom you have never seen before?  Do you know the name of that panhandler who you regularly give a buck to?  Do you pray during the day?  If we were honest with ourselves, as a culture, we would actually have to admit that technology has done nothing to really improve our communication and has probably done more to damage it than anything else.  We have become increasingly insular and are rapidly learning to turn inward and bury ourselves, literally, in our devices. 

            This season of Lenten observance has its roots in the mortification traditions of the Old Testament cultures but in our modern day it can serve purposes much broader than simply “suffering on purpose”.  For one thing, Lent causes us to purposely turn our attention away from our “techno world” and to Jesus’ sacrifice for our sake.  Hopefully that should part of a prayer discipline that we purposely keep during Lent.  Alms giving is also highlighted because it is a way of letting go of worldly things that maybe we cling to a little too tightly.  Maybe you could give up your blackberry for Lent?  Finally, there is the discipline of fasting.  Many people have the misunderstanding that fasting is about punishing ourselves by denial of self.  That is really an incorrect understanding of what fasting is all about.  The real purpose of fasting is to actually create a hunger that is palpable, a hunger where we actually have the physical and emotional experience of desire.  Fasting, if done correctly, should create a situation where we simply long for what we are missing.  Did you ever notice that if we miss lunch because we are engrossed in work that we hardly notice, but if we skip lunch because of a purposeful fast we are ready to “eat cardboard” by dinner time?  This is a good thing because fasting should really be about what is like to feel “longing”.  Longing is a direct correlation of God’s love for us.  Original sin separated us from The Father and every moment since then he has longed for our return. He longs for time, dialogue, and relationship with each and every one of us.  Our Lenten fast is really for the purposes of teaching us what longing is like and hopefully develop a new understanding of how much God loves and wants us heart and soul.  Longing is a powerful spiritual tool.  Jesus presence on earth is a direct result of God’s longing.  He did not come on earth to prevent hunger and thirst.  He did not come to fill our stomachs but to inseminate our souls.  He came with his great leaven so that no stone might be incapable of becoming wheat or loaf.  Such is the miracle of grace; such is this amalgam of love and longing that no stone has the power to resist.”  (Paul Claudel † 1953, French Poet)   Longing is simply transformative of itself.  

             For regular people, though, holiness is sometimes easier said than done.  The Apostle Paul teaches us that when he laments that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.  This, however, is no reason to waste the opportunity that Lent gives us.  Within the season you are not the only one who is having struggles with working on a more spiritual attitude.  Lent happens on a universal basis.  All over the world, at the same moment you are struggling so are millions of other people.  So you are actually within a “body of believers” heading toward the same goal.  This is the power of the community, you are not alone.  Next, nobody’s perfect and your goal of more mortification and greater grace is contained within that “great cloud”.  We are all believers praying together.  Finally, give yourself some credit.  If your fasting did not go well today pick yourself up and head for tomorrow.  Each, according to his ability and inclination, must devote himself to interior prayer …and keep himself quietly in God’s holy presence, turning to him from time to time with some interior act of adoration, repentance, trust and love.  If such an act cannot be performed, be content with the earnest wish to perform it; for in good as in evil, the desire with God is equivalent to the deed.  … From this it follows that to him for whom our souls are an open book, a cry retained in the depths of the soul is worth as much as a cry raised to heaven.” (Father Jean-Pierre De Caussade, S.J. † 1715)  Make no mistake, though, this is not a “free pass” to work on your spirituality using the “Harold Hill” method.  Spirituality does not happen by simply thinking about it long enough.  Caussade’s wisdom, though, gives us eternal hope that if we have been really working on an improved spiritual walk for a while and don’t feel like we’re moving forward there is no reason to give up or judge ourselves.  Return to your longing and give yourself credit for having the sincere desire to work at it.  Lent is the perfect time to set the world aside and join every other believer who has the same desire that you do.  You can do it, let the desire propel you forward.  Give up your hunger to be in touch with the world and shift to a desire to be in touch with God. He misses you.  You don’t need an I-Phone to accomplish it.  


Copyright© Lent 2010, Kathryn M. Cunningham, All Rights Reserved. 

Check out Kathryn on the net at: www.atravelersview.org



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