We are still in Lent, so Lent is what we will talk about.
I would like to help increase the faith of those of you that are fasting, as well as remind you of the purpose of the fast which I also hope will help you successfully finish the fast. I also hope to encourage those of you who are not observing Lent to take this spiritual journey and learn through your own experience about the truly great significance of Lent. Holy Gospel actually offers us food for thought in this sense.
A certain father, laden with worries and fears, brought his ailing son before Christ. He had absolutely no one else to turn to at that point. He had even taken his son to Christ’s disciples who had tried to heal him but failed (Mark 9:18).
When the apostles found themselves alone with their Teacher, they asked Him why they themselves had not been able to perform a miracle and drive the unclean spirit out of the possessed young man. The Lord answered them with a single yet concise sentence: “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:29)
As for us, we can either accept or reject these words that Christ said. God has given us free will to manage our lives, our souls and our bodies, in any way we choose. However, we must not doubt the truthfulness of God’s words.
We can be witnesses to the miracle of fasting only if we truly practice the fast.
The most negative comments about Lent come from those who least observe it. It is quite obvious that these people are commenting on things they know next to nothing about. If they were to at least make an attempt to harness their own will as well as their bellies, they would become convinced that the fast is light on the body and a remedy for the soul.
However, I personally think that all this has all mostly to do with our pride. We usually put our own opinion and judgment above the opinion and judgment of others. Whatever someone else says, we know better. And so, even when God Himself tells us that the most severe illnesses are cured by fasting and prayer, we doubt this and are reluctant to even try.
However, there is something that we cannot doubt, as it is too obvious – the fact that many illnesses today are caused by food and drink. No one has ever gotten sick from fasting. Logic tells us that, since the treatment for all illness involves the reversal of those factors which lead to the illness, these food-related illnesses should be treated with none other than fasting.
We must acknowledge, too, that food and eating is, to a great extent, a habit. If we want, we can easily limit ourselves to a half, a third, or even a quarter of the quantity of food we are used to taking and still satisfy our nutritious needs. However, if we let our will and our hungry eyes get the better of us, then we are in for heaviness, and ultimately, sickness. Giving in to our own greed is like holding a knife to our own throat (Proverbs 23:2). This is why Solomon the Wise says: “Hast thou found honey? Eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it.” (Proverbs 25:16)
No one is keeping us from eating and drinking what we need to sustain us. The problem is that we sometimes never seem to know how much is enough. Christ never said anything against food and drink He only says, “Take heed to yourselves, lest you hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.” (Luke 21:34)
And whether we want to or not we must be able to recognize ourselves in St. Paul’s criticism of those that walk as the enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly and their glory is their shame. They set their mind only on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:18-19)
We Christians are expected to break off with that kind of life and to accept God, and not our bellies, as our master. St. Peter the apostle writes in his epistle, “For we have passed enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles – when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.” (1 Peter 4:3)
If we are not ready to harness our will and our instincts, we are incapable of doing anything great. Is it not true that more wars have been won with empty stomachs than with full ones and that many more books were written while the stomach was empty and the mind full. A full stomach does not gravitate towards virtue, but rather towards sleep.
The first pages of the Bible offer a description of man’s quarrel with God, the reason being none other than food, for what else did Adam and Eve’s transgression of God’s will consist of?
There are other examples, such as this one: the Lord decided to lead His chosen people out of the land of Egypt and into the promised land. In order to lighten their worries and troubles, their bellies and their minds, and also to spare them the struggle of hauling food and drink across the desert, He sent them manna from heaven. It satisfied all of their needs. But Moses said that “the multitude that was among them was lusting, and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic: But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.” (Numbers 11:4-6)
In Egypt they had lived in slavery. The Egyptians burdened them with the hardest labor, killed them mercilessly, slaughtered their male children that they would not multiply. And the chosen people chose to forget all of this – all they remembered was the meat and the fish. Forget the will of God and God’s providence, forget the promised land – give us meat, God! When God had had enough of their whining, he called Moses and said to him: “And say thou unto the people, sanctify yourselves against to morrow, and ye shall eat flesh: for ye have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, who shall give us flesh to eat? For it was well with us in Egypt: therefore the Lord will give you flesh, and ye shall eat. Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days; but even a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you: because that ye have despised the Lord which is among you, and have wept before him, saying, why came we forth out of Egypt?” (Numbers 11:18-20)
Indeed, the Lord kept His word and “He gave them their request and sent leanness into their soul.” (Psalm 106:15) “He also rained meat on them like the dust, feathered fowl like the sand of the seas, and He let them fall in the midst of their camp all around their dwellings. So they ate and were well filled for He gave them their own desire. They were not deprived of their craving; but while their food was still in their mouths, the wrath of God came against them, and slew the stoutest of them, and struck down the choice men of Israel.” (Psalm 78: 27-31)
Is history not repeating itself? Is not God giving us an abundance of food? Are we not consuming food and drink in exaggeration of our needs, so much that we have no room to digest it? And in spite of it all, we are still doing the same. Therefore, it would not be a bad thing to remember that God Himself established the Fast for our own good and salvation.