We have entered the graceful season of Lent with many prayer intentions and resolutions. During this time of the year we are encouraged into a mode of reflecting on the Passion and death of Jesus and thus to become aware and experience the unconditional love God has for each of us. The very thought of Lent brings to our mind the concepts of fasting, prayer and abstinence.
Why do we Christians fast? Can fasting or abstaining from something that is good lead us to heaven. The answer is yes and no. Fasting and abstinence are not the aim or the end, but they are tools that bring us closer to God.
Fasting and abstinence are different in various cultures. Some people give up certain food items, some give up smoking, drinking, movies or other bodily inclinations. In my place in India, most families abstain from meat and fish for the entire time of lent. I have heard mothers worrying about the menu as meat and fish are very much part of our daily food. I have even heard people saying you know you can cook this vegetable just like meat and it tastes the same. You can make fish fry without fish or meat roast without meat. Why are we giving up something and cater the desire to alternate it with something that would taste the same or feel the same? The question of supplementing the required nutrients is comprehensible. But why do we want to have the same satisfaction of having it if we have given it up with love? I have also seen that on the evening of Holy Saturday onwards our tables are filled with all kinds of everything that we gave up during the Lent. I give up something and have double the measure of it later.
We live in an age when life is centred on immediate gratification and consumerism. We see and hear the slogans such as, Magnum, for pleasure seekers, Peugeot. Live the pleasure etc. The pleasure that we get from material things are momentary. Sometimes I see a packet of chocolate sitting on the table and I can go past it without touching for days. But once I open it, I cannot stop eating it. The temporary satisfaction creates a desire for more.
What is the effect of fasting and abstinence on our life? If carried out genuinely, they are powerful tools to make us desire for God. Through it we become more attuned to the desires of the heart and the soul than to the desires of the body. At least for these forty days, we concentrate on our spiritual hunger and find satisfaction in God. Is it because body is bad? Of course not, body is the temple of God and its beautiful. But self-denial makes us stronger, whether it is to food, possessions, power. To have control over my body and my cravings means to let God work in me.
Lent is an invitation to remember that it is important for me to say no to myself and to know that I have the grace to do so. Our fasting is not for God or the Church, rather, it is for ourselves. So, self-denial is the point of Lent. That is what Adam and Eve failed to do and that is what Jesus did throughout His life, passion and death. It is not an end in itself but it is the way, and it teaches us to depend on God. When self-denial is fortified with the Word of God and combined with prayer, compassion and works of charity, our Easter becomes real.
Sr Gini George SSpS