Saturday, February 16, 2013

Fasting With Humility

As I was praying my way through Morning Prayer this morning I was reminded of a conversation that I had with a gentleman several years ago. I was at my place of employment and sitting down to lunch. A Greek Orthodox gentleman was visiting and noticed what I was eating. It happened to be during Great Lent and I was eating something that had oil in it (for those of you unfamiliar with Eastern Christian fasting customs, oil is prohibited throughout Lent, as is meat, dairy products, and wine). The gentleman made some comment along the lines of "You Roman Catholics..." with a clear indication that Roman Catholic fasting customs were not strict enough. Incidentally I was following the Eastern fasting customs to the best of my abilities at the time.

While thinking about this conversation this morning I also remembered that in the writings of the Eastern Fathers none of them prescribe a universal fasting custom the must be followed on pain of incurring some sin. Indeed, in the Melkite Publican's Prayer Book we are reminded that the strict fasting laws of the Eastern Churches are an ideal to which we strive, not an imposition of law that we must obey for fear of sin. The Fathers all point out that fasting - or any ascetical practice for that matter -  is not something in which we ought to take pride, but rather a practice that must lead to deeper humility. If our fasting is not leading us deeper into humility, then it has lost its purpose.

Whether you follow the strict or adapted fasting practices of the Eastern Churches, or the current fasting practices of the Roman Church, does not ultimately matter so long as we approach those practices with humility and without judgment on the practices our fellow brethren in Christ follow. While I was growing up it was considered taboo to speak of what you had "given up for Lent." Even to this day I have a knee-jerk reaction to people when they ask me what I'm doing for Lent. I don't like to talk about it. How I fast during Lent is between God and I, so long as my fasting is within the regulations of the Church (obedience to the laws of the Church, after all, lead to deeper humility).

So during this Lent, this Great Fast, let's not worry so much about what our fellow Eastern Catholics are doing, or what our fellow Roman Catholics are giving up. Let's, rather, support one another in prayer and mutual encouragement. Let's uphold one another in humility. Let's fast according to our strength and in respect for our weaknesses so that we, with God's help, can develop a deeper humility within our hearts. This way, when Lent is over, whether we've followed the strict laws of the Fast, or simply given up chocolate, we can rejoice all the more with one another for engaging in this spiritual warfare and exalt all the more when we cry out in joy, "Christ is risen!"

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