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제목 Sermon about Christian meaning of fasting -1st Sunday in Lent (2021.2.21)
작성자 관리자 작성일 2021-02-28





 Sermon about Christian meaning of fasting -1st Sunday in Lent (2021.2.21)


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Introduction


Last Wednesday we started Lent, which is a period of the Liturgical year especially dedicated to prayer and penance. So for example, at Mass during weekdays, the Church adds a prayer after the Communion Prayer, and says: “Oremus, humiliate capita vestra Deo” “Let us pray – Bow down your heads before God”. We kneel and bow the head during this prayer as a sign of penance. But besides the liturgy of the Mass, during Lent the Church commands us to fast and to do abstinence. I will speak today about fasting, the meaning of it and the spiritual benefits we get from it.


Christian meaning of fasting


Fasting may sound scary because we associate it with the painful pangs of our stomach and consequently we may be much tempted to find a lot of excuses for not fasting. However, St Benedict, great Master of the spiritual life, says that fasting is a powerful means of perfection and therefore we should like it, even if for good and serious reasons we cannot actually fast. St Gregory the Great for example, being seriously sick, cried because on a Holy Saturday he was not allowed to fast.


When I speak about fasting, I mean of course Christian fasting, that is to say fasting which is done for religious reasons: in order to honor God, to do penance for sins, to fight against temptations, and so on… A fasting which is done only for medical reasons, or for fitness purposes, is of no value for our spiritual life.


There are 3 kinds of fasting in our Catholic discipline.


• There is what we call “Natural fasting”, that is to say to abstain from any food and drink. Our Lord Jesus had such fasting during his 40 days in the desert. We do such fasting when we prepare ourselves for Holy Communion: we don’t eat anything for at least 3 hours and don’t drink anything except water for at least 1 hour before receiving Holy Communion. This specific natural fasting, we call it: “Eucharist fasting”.


• Secondly there is the fasting commanded by the Church to all Christians on some days of the year: Ember Days, Lent, Advent, Vigils… and this fasting consists in having only one full meal within 24 hours. We call it the “Ecclesiastical fast”. “Ecclesia” means “Church” in Latin: the fasting commanded by the Church. According to the current laws of the Church, ecclesiastical fast is imposed on the faithful only on 2 days: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.


• At last fasting is a generic word meaning any restriction which we imposed voluntarily upon ourselves in matter of food and drink. We call this fasting: “Moral fasting”, because it is in view of improving our good morals: to develop our virtues and correct our defects.
Reasons for fasting


Now, why do we fast? What is the meaning of depriving ourselves of food and drink? Food and drink are so necessary for sustaining our life that we associate our food to our life itself. Consequently, to deprive ourselves voluntarily of some food for the love of God has the general meaning of offering our life to God. To this general meaning, are added specific meanings.


By our Eucharistic fasting, we want to honor Our Lord Jesus, to tell Him that we are ready to give up all our goods and even our own life in order to be with Him. Also the Eucharistic fasting, which makes our body be empty of food and lighter, symbolises the purity of our soul free from sin and worldly affections.


By our ecclesiastical fast, we want to show our sincere desire to be forgiven our sins. Our Lord Jesus has warned us: “Unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish.” (Lc 13;5). So, the Church obliges her children to fast and to do abstinence of meat at least on a few days a year in order to comply with the warning of Our Lord Jesus and to help securing their salvation. The Church knows very well that often, if we are not forced by law to do something, we never do it out of weakness or negligence.


By our moral fast, by depriving ourselves voluntarily of some food and drink, we want to compensate for our sins. Indeed, when we break God’s Commandments, it is because we love something (money, pleasure, power, our own self…) more than God. On the contrary, when we deny ourselves voluntarily some food for the love of God, we want to show that we love God more than anything, included our own life.

Spiritual benefits of fasting


The Preface of the Mass for Lent says: “O Holy Lord… who by the fasting of the body do curb our vices, elevate our mind and bestow virtue and reward”. This is a summary of the spiritual benefits which we get through fasting.


Fasting helps to elevate our mind, that is to say to pray. Since the Original Sin, we carry in ourselves a war between what we call the Flesh, that is to say our disordered desires in matter of sensuality, greediness and pride, and what we call the Spirit that is to say our good will enlightened by Faith and strengthened by grace. There is no possible peace between the 2: the more we satisfy the desires of the flesh, the more difficult it becomes for the spirit to have its activities, especially prayer. Probably you have experienced how difficult it is to pray after a big meal: our mind becomes like a bird covered with heavy mud, having great difficulty to take off. When we feel tepid in our spiritual life, lazy in our prayers, then the first remedy to apply is to do some fasting.


Fasting helps to pray and to maintain our spiritual fervor.


Fasting makes also our mind be more acute and penetrating regarding the supernatural realities, because better disposed to receive the spiritual lights of the Holy Ghost. Fasting helps us to see more clearly the vanity of the goods of this world and to understand better the evil of sin; and consequently fasting helps us to be hungry and thirsty for God, for eternal life, for what is great, beautiful, holy, wise and good. Remember how, in the Old Testament, God commanded the Hebrews to fast as a preparation to receive His Revelations at Mount Sinai.


The Preface of Lent says also that fasting “curbs our vices”. When we fast, we voluntarily deprive ourselves of some food and drink which we could have lawfully, without committing any sin. Doing so, we strengthen our will power over the desires of our flesh. Indeed if we can deny ourselves the lawful desires of the flesh, all the more we will be able to deny ourselves the sinful desires of the flesh when they arise. Our Lord Jesus said that temptations, especially against purity, are defeated by prayer and penance, that is to say fasting.


Fasting is very profitable to our own spiritual life, but also to other people, for their conversion for example. Let me quote 2 saints. The first quote, of St Mary Magdalene of Pazzi: “How is it that some evangelical workers produce so little fruit in the souls, if not because of their lack of mortification?”. The second quote is from St John Mary Vianney, the Curé of Ars, talking to a young priest who had asked him his secret for converting so many sinners: “My friend, what defeats the devil is to deny oneself food, drink and sleep… There is nothing else which he fears so much… When I was alone, I could spend several days without eating… I could then obtain from God all what I wanted, for me like for the others”.


Conclusion:


The spiritual Masters are unanimous to say that fasting is necessary for whoever wants to have a serious and deep Christian life. St Benedict said that we should like fasting. We don’t like fasting if we use any pretext to excuse ourselves from it. Some people may say that fasting is not good for health. This is obviously false: over-eating and over-drinking are harmful to health, not fasting. Let us be honest: fasting is not a health issue, but a will-power issue. I met several faithful, simple and hardworking people, who used to keep the ecclesiastical fast all the days of Lent. We can mention also the Capuchins and Benedictines who keep the ecclesiastical fast all the days of Lent. And as far as I know, I never heard that any of these people has passed away because of fasting!


So, let us not give ourselves fake excuses for not fasting during this Lent. Let us be courageous to follow the Commandment of the Church and also to add some personal fasting in proportion of our generosity and capacity. I give you some examples: to keep the ecclesiastical fast every day (except Sundays and 1st class feasts); to abstain from meat every day; to have only 2 meals a day instead of 3; to give up some specific food like: sugar, cakes, sweet, snacks… Make a concete resolution and at the end of the day make sure that you can say: I have done this or that to compensate for my sins, and to prove to God that I love Him more than myself.


May the Blessed Virgin encourage us during this Lent to do so.

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