by Fr. Denis Lemieux.
So why does God care about what we eat, anyhow? Does he? The past two months I have been working my way towards discussing the place of fasting in our Christian tradition: why exactly do we fast? In this Year of Faith it is good to delve into the reasons for things, the ratio behind the fides we profess.
And so I talked in Part One about the reality of flesh and spirit, these two very different ways of being in the world, the flesh finite, divisible, and hence mortal, the spirit infinite, indivisible and oriented towards communion.
In Part Two I showed how the whole of our faith can be well understood as the inspiriting of the flesh, God coming to us material creatures to spiritualize us, to raise us up from the level of mere matter to this life of communion, gift, and love that is the essence of true spirituality.
This was God’s initial gift to us in creation, as he made us human beings in his image and likeness, made for communion in our physical being. And the two become one flesh… (Gen 2:24).
We broke this communion in our fall, and God’s whole action of grace has been to elevate us in our physical fleshly life to the level of pure spiritual being—a life wholly governed by love and by gift.
This is what Christ brought us in the Paschal Mystery which becomes our mystery by the sending of the Holy Spirit upon us at baptism.
All that was the subject of the first two articles in the series.
Now the question emerges… Why do we fast, anyway? I’m not sure exactly when you will be getting this March issue of the paper, but surely Lent will be well underway, and… exactly why are we doing this again?
As Lent "March’es" on, many of us find it hard to keep up that initial Ash Wednesday resolve and enthusiasm. Sometimes we want that chocolate bar so badly. Lent can be the longest 40 days of the year.
We fast because of all this spirit and flesh business. God is calling us to enter a life of such depth, such love, such glory, such a totality of openness to the Spirit of God lived out in our bodies and in our own spiritual being. And we don’t believe it, quite.
God tells us that the path of freedom is to pour ourselves out in love. We think the path of freedom is to do whatever we darn well please.
God tells us that abundance of life comes in entering the pure gift and pure outpouring of the Trinity. We think abundance of life comes in stuffing our faces, our bank accounts, and our homes with as much stuff as we can get our hands on.
God tells us that true power, true mastery, true exercise of our royal dignity and being lies in a totality of surrender to the life of God pouring out upon us and within us, a surrender won for us in prayer and expressed by us in obedience.
We think that true power means throwing our weight around, getting our way, winning every argument and controlling and manipulating everyone around us.
So, no, we don’t really believe in this flesh-spirit reality God calls us into, and we are quick—very quick—to retreat back to the level of the flesh, that finite mortal reality where we have to get our slice of the pie before it’s all gone, and use whatever force or deviousness it takes to do that.
So, we need to fast, as well as pray and give alms—our Lenten discipline. We need to deny that part of ourselves that is unbelieving, unrepentant, uninterested in the life of the spirit and wallowing in the life of the flesh.
We need to feel that bit of hunger, that little ache in the stomach, that slight weakness in the body, that little alarm bell that goes off in our brain telling us, ‘Time to eat! Time to eat! Time to eat! Eat or die! Eat or die!’
No. We will not die if we do a little fasting. The only thing that will die in us is our rock bottom conviction that the ultimate needs of our life are met by the fulfillment of the flesh and its appetites.
Why does God care what we eat? You know, I don’t think he does, much. Probably as a good and loving Father, he wants us to have enough to eat, but I doubt he cares much beyond that.
But he does care a great deal about what we love. He cares about what we worship. He cares about what we believe and whether what we believe is the truth or not.
And so, much of our attitude towards food and drink, towards sex and pleasure, towards money and cars and all the latest "whatevers" we decide to be the status symbols of the day, so much of that, is just disordered.
Disordered thinking and disordered loving, and bordering on idolatry, if not right over the edge into it.
Fasting is an exercise in idol-smashing, really. Showing ourselves, our poor disbelieving hearts, that we truly do not need to cling to all this nonsense, that what we truly need—and all we truly need—is to receive the love of God into our hearts and give this love to whoever, whenever, however we can.
And that is Easter. The risen life which we will know in fullness in heaven but which begins here and now, as we strive to make the communion of love the only real purpose of our life.
Christ is risen from the dead, and so this communion and this life is possible even now in our bodily lives in this world.
It is our Lenten fast that opens us up to the deep truth of Easter, the truth of the victory of love and the Spirit of God over and in all mortal flesh, to raise it up into the immortal life of the kingdom of heaven.
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