WHY FAST? WHY ABSTAIN?
Why, indeed. As the season of Lent begins, we continue the ancient practice of fasting and abstaining. Sometimes we do this for the practical benefit of losing weight, cutting back on smoking or drinking, leaving behind a bad habit. All good, but not deep enough. We may do it as a penance or a sacrifice, for the purpose of strengthening us. Also good, but go deeper. The sacrifice of time or food or almsgiving prepares us for even greater sacrifices. True, indeed, but I believe that the Trappist monk Thomas Merton gives the deepest reason that I have come to know.
“From the moment Christ went out into the desert to be tempted, the loneliness, the temptation and the hunger of every man became the loneliness, temptation, and hunger of Christ. But in return, the gift of truth with which Christ dispelled the three kinds of illusion offered him in his temptation (security, reputation and power) can become also our own truth, if we can only accept it.” – From the book “Christ in the Desert” Security: turning stones into an abundance of food. Reputation: Satan: “If you are the Son of God, prove it. Power: Satan: “I will give you power and glory over all the kingdoms of earth.” We fast and abstain in order to remove the scales from our eyes, in order to dispel the illusions that the world presents, in order to see the truth about ourselves and the direction of our lives. It is the truth found in the vows proclaimed for us by our parents and Godparents when we were baptized, vows renewed by each of us every Lent and Easter; “Do you reject the glamor of evil and refuse to be mastered by sin?” We respond, “I do. For I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.” That is who I am. That is my truth. That is why I fast and abstain: to clearly see this truth of myself that I am a disciple of Jesus.