reconciling things

“Allow it all to happen: beauty and terror…” Rilke

I spend about 10 minutes in the mornings looking at the headlines. I probably shouldn’t, because more often than not it’s depressing. The world has gone mad. Where are we all going? And why are we in this hand basket?

Our collective health, mental well-being, economy, and energy is overextended. In response, the powers-that-be print money in hopes to stimulate the economy. Nevermind that consumerism has never led to internal peace. We can update our post-pandemic wardrobe or join a gym to get sculpted. We can find a better car, a perfect latte, or a guide to being an at-home mixologist. Yet, at the end of the day, when we look in the mirror, we just have ourselves and whatever bit of eternity we hold within us that we haven’t managed to snuff out with our excesses.

Rilke, of course

The disciples of John came to Jesus and asked the Lord why his disciples weren’t fasting. Jesus told them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (Matthew 9)

Looking at the world these days and feeling the absence of the Bridegroom (don’t you?) I feel like part of the answer is fasting. Part of the solution to the difficult equation of how to dig ourselves out of the pit into which we have tossed ourselves is to fast. I feel like we must reach back to some ancient wisdom that knew that denying ourselves would lead to more happiness and that those who are oppressed and isolated and sad rely on those who can voluntarily fast to deliver light.

The Church gives us seasons of fasting. In our (perhaps misguided) quest to keep the spirit and not merely the letter we have eased up fasting restrictions to the point that I wonder what is the point. It’s such a small gift to give these days: no meat on Good Friday and Ash Wednesday. And two meals that together don’t equal one full meal. It’s just not particularly penitential for most of us.

Let me tell you a secret….there is nothing stopping you from finding your inner eremite and taking up ancient ways of fasting. You could start small: make that Friday penance a thing, year around. No meat, extra prayers. If you start to find that to not be too difficult, add Wednesdays. The ancient Church fasted both days—Wednesdays in reparation for Judas’ betrayal and Friday to honor Christ’s death.

If you got that (and I have a feeling you do) maybe find a cozy spot in the liturgical calendar for extra fasting. There is always Advent and Lent, which are obvious and glorious choices. But then there is St. Michael’s Lent, the Apostles’ Fast, the Fast of the Ninevites, and so many others. Coming up next week we have the Dormition Fast.

This is the fast that leads up to the Dormition and Assumption of Our Lady into heaven. It reminds us that the resurrection of the body is a real and tangible thing, not just an empty hope of the aged or words hastily and mindlessly said during the Creed. We fast in hope that living as a penitent on earth we will find the full manifestation of our sonship in heaven. We fast because without the fast there is no feast.

What this means in the East:

Fasting daily from midnight to noon. No food. Only clear liquid.

Abstaining from all animal flesh, dairy, eggs, and alcohol. Essentially, we are sober vegans.

Also, Sundays are not your get out of abstinence free card. You can eat when you wish, but you still have to keep the abstinence.

This applies to all those who have reached the age of reason.

Can you dig it? Want to try it? Want to fail with us? We fast. We fail. We try again.

That’s the thing with fasting. It places you securely within a community who is undertaking this sacred practice together, joining our penances and little mortifications together as a beautiful gift to present our Lord. It opens up a bit of light in this dark world. It breaks oppression and helps the prisoner to go free. (Isaiah 58) And when you are a handful of chips in at 11AM and then you find yourself facepalming because you forgot the fast, the loving community catches you and you find yourself right there again—a penitent among a throng of penitents, asking for mercy.

So, I ask you this: as a family we begin August 7 and will continue until the Vigil of the Assumption on August 14. How can we pray for you? Tell us in the comments. Be anonymous if you want. We will pray and the Bridegroom, whose disciples fast now that he is away, knows your name.

On the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, being enrolled in the Brown Scapular

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. Revelation 22:17

One thought on “Then They Will Fast

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