Grace to you!
Yesterday, I shared with you at great length the uniqueness of Christian fast. I hope you found the information useful, no matter how little. I would love to expand on the theme of fasting a little more, by reflecting on the benefits of the Lenten fast or Christian fast in general.
You may have known fasting is one of the three acts of Lent. The other two are prayer and charity giving, what is also called almsgiving.
Fast (fasting) is a beautiful Christian practice. It isn’t always pleasant though, especially when you have to fast from what you really love.
I remember when I was growing up, I heard a wonderful sermon on the benefits of fasting from what we love. At that time, I loved peanuts and usually gulped them like the deer thirsting for flowing water. So, I decided to abstain from nuts for the whole year. I tell you, I craved excessively for the nuts, just like those addicted to coffee crave for it. Addiction is terrible. At times, the craving was like a self-torture. Thank God for His grace, which saw me through, giving me victory over one of my cravings.
As we talk of the spirit of Lenten fast, we realize it has some spiritual by-products, which are really good for us. Fast offers us an opportunity to practice self-control and to develop the skills of self-mastery. It is another way of speaking to the blessings at the core of offering something up for a higher cause.
In the prophesy of Isaiah chapter 58, the prophet speaks eloquently of what constitutes true fast (we have already cited verses 1 to 9a of it yesterday). Verses 9 to 14 of the prophecy show the benefits of the true fast. They include divine glorification of the person, divine guidance, blessing with good things, good health, fruitfulness, restoration, delighting in God, exaltation and abundant provisions. These are some of the benefits of the true fast.
There is a skill-acquisition dimension to true fast also. It trains us in the virtue of self-control. If we can restrain ourselves from the food or drink we crave, we could equally restrain ourselves from other appetites, since the appetite for food springs from the same emotional hub with other appetites. Control over one passion facilitates control over another. Fasting is an effective tool for discipline.
Though the benefit of self-control is moral and social, it helps us in developing our spiritual life too. Isn’t it likely people who can control their appetite can also be very properly disposed to grow in the spiritual life? Thus, self-control is equally a spiritual skill.
In the coming days, I shall share with you other benefits of fasting. For now, you may want to consider what to offer up as part of your Lenten fast? It would be a beautiful thing to do this season.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Reading for Saturday after Ash Wednesday: Is. 58:9b-14; Lk 5:27-32]
Grace to you!
Have you watched one of those weight watchers programs? They remind me of a family friend who is often concerned about her weight. She checks her weight regularly and measures the proportion of food she eats. Very disciplined woman, one might say.
Actually, there are many people like her. Many people want to look like super models. Personally, I too, watch what I eat. But one day I was feeling dizzy and my doctor told me to eat healthy and not starve myself. “Virtue lies in the mean” is a wise advise from the Angelic Doctor, Saint Thomas Aquinas.
On this Day 3 of Lent, or should I say “pre-Lent” (since technically in the Church’s old tradition, from Ash-Wednesday to Saturday after Ash-Wednesday is called “pre-Lent”), let’s reflect on the need for fasting as a healthy principle for life. Contrasting it with dieting would, hopefully, drive the point home.
Dieting is pretty much understood by many people as eating healthy so as to keep fit. Fasting, on the other hand, is abstaining from certain, often favorite, food and drink, so as to grow spiritually and be more generous to those in need. Observe some of the fundamental differences between fasting and dieting.
The intention for each is different. Dieting is intended to keep people healthy and fit—a good practice. Fasting is for a spiritual cause and growth, as well as to help those in need. Intention matters.
Ironically, fasting could equally offer good health and fitness, because if we abstain from unhealthy food (always the right thing to do), our bodies fare well for it. In addition to reserving something for charity, for the less privileged, our body wouldn’t acquire excess fat.
On the contrary, generally speaking, dieting is expensive and drains us of reserve to help the poor, except for those who can afford it. Many of the recommendations of dieting are expensive to maintain.
You may be wondering why am I spending much time on this 3rd day of Lent talking about the difference between dieting and fasting. It’s to show that the Christian model of a healthy life-style, both physical and spiritual, encourages fasting. If Lent is a time of conversion, isn’t it appropriate we reassess our eating habits? Isn’t it also important taking seriously the demands for helping those in need?
We may want to ask ourselves this Lent: what kind of fast do I practice?
To help our assessment, we may want to use this Judeo-Christian standard suggested by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah (58:1-9) as guideline: Does my fasting loose the bonds of wickedness, lead to freeing of the oppressed, and breaking the chains of unfreedom in all its forms? Does it help me to share my bread with the hungry, clothe the naked, accompany and provide shelter for the homeless?
I will add: Does it bring me closer to God, lead to growth in the Spirit and encourage strength of character and love for one another?
Pondering these questions may aid our personal reflections for this Day 3 of Lent.
God bless you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Friday after Ash Wednesday: Is 58:1-9a; Mt 9:14-15]
Grace to you!
On this Day 2 of Lent, may we continue from where we stopped yesterday by reflecting on how the choices we make in life matter. As I hinted yesterday, the two central messages of Lent are a call to conversion and an invitation to a deeper relationship with Jesus through connecting with the events of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.
From Ash Wednesday, what is actually called “pre-Lent,” to the Saturday of the 3rd week of Lent, the message centers on repentance and conversion. From the 4th Sunday to the end of Lent on the Eve of Holy Thursday, the theme centers on the person of Jesus Christ, discovering the suffering Messiah. So all of our entire reflections up to the 3rd week of Lent will, in one way or another, draw us to self-examination, leading to conversion or ongoing conversion.
May we return to our theme for today. Do the choices we make in life matter? Sounds like a dumb question, doesn’t it? Nonetheless, experience shows it’s a relevant question to ask.
Suppose you decide to eat chocolate every day. Would it affect your health? Suppose you choose to run the red light. Does it really matter?
How about the choice to act unjustly, to be unfaithful in your relationships? Or not support your kids when they need you the most; or simply not attend their graduation for no just reason? Such choices will have disastrous consequences, won’t they?
How about the choice to reject God and His grace? Does it matter?
Experts in human development agree that the choices we make in life make or mar us. It’s a general human life ethical principle.
I suppose it’s this ethical principle which the Lenten Season is drawing our attention to through the story in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy 30:15-20. In the story, Moses, the greatest leader in the Old Testament spoke to the people of Israel, calling on them to choose between the good and the bad, life and death.
Similarly, Jesus Christ in the New Testament gospel of Luke 9:22-25 invited his disciples to consider the implicit choice connected with being his disciples. It has to do with the choice for what is good and right which often is uncomfortable. We know in life, nothing good comes easy. The choice to be a follower of Christ comes with the cross and suffering too. Yet it shouldn't deter us from choosing it.
During this Lent, wouldn’t it be a wonderful idea to add to our desire to be better people, the decision to choose what is good for us, since the choices we make in life matter. Please do not tell me your resolution for Lent is to avoid coffee? Nice but…?
How about considerations like these: Are their choices I have made that need reconsideration, those choices that make me sad, bitter, resentful, generally unhappy; those choices that deprive me of the joy of the Lord? Altering them is necessary. No need to procrastinate. Lent is a decision point.
Praying with you for the grace to make the right choices. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Thursday after Ash Wednesday: Dt. 30:15-20; Lk 9:22-25]
Father Maurice Emelu, Ph.D., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the Bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth and inspiration. They are designed for a general audience. They may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons.