Continuing her reflection on Lent, Sr Mary David writes about what we really need to “give up”.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus signals three ways in which we prepare for Easter: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. All three belong to our celebration of Lent. It is a question of giving our heart in prayer, our material body in fasting, and our material goods in alms. Thus these three great religious acts of the Gospel express each in its own way, an offering without reserve.
Lenten practices will vary; moreover fasting is not a mere matter of diet. It is moral as well as physical. True fasting is to be converted in heart and will; it is to return to God, to come home like the Prodigal to our Father’s house. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, it means ‘abstinence not only from food but from sins’. The fast, he insists, ‘should be kept not by the mouth alone but also by the eye, the ear, the feet, the hands and all the members of the body: the eye must abstain from impure sights, the ear from malicious gossip, the hands from acts of injustice.’ It is useless to fast from food, protests St. Basil, and yet to indulge in cruel criticism and slander: ‘you do not eat meat, but you devour your brother.’
Abstaining through the forty days of Lent only makes sense if we are preparing to be alleluia throughout the fifty days of Easter. Fasting from food and drink of this present world is for Christians a sign of our expectation of the feasting in the new world, the world of the resurrection, on the food and drink of everlasting life. Our fasting orients us towards Easter.
Sr Mary David is a Benedictine nun of St Cecilia’s Abbey, Ryde, Isle of Wight, where she serves her Community as Prioress and Novice Mistress. She has written Christian Fasting available from CTS priced £2.50.
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