+REJOICE THAT YOU SHARE IN CHRIST’S SUFFERING 18 Sep. 2022
This Sunday after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross and then the memorial of our Lady of Sorrows may be a time to reflect on our minor monastic fast. There are only a few minor changes in our food service but it may be helpful to reflect on this aspect of our monastic lives. I felt myself hesitant to do so because we are about to move into our busy work season when we experience more than ever the burden of extra hours in shipping or elsewhere.
In an article on fasting by a Rick Becker, a husband, father of seven children, a nursing instructor and religious educator, he quotes Flannery O’Connor: “It is true that grace is the free gift of God, but in order to put yourself in the way of being receptive to it you have to practice self-denial.” I don’t think any of us have undertaken monastic life without knowing it was going to demand some real discipline on our part. We appreciate the wisdom of St Benedict because it grounds us in the love of Christ through the honest demands of community life. There is an important role each of us plays every day if we are going to open ourselves to this love of Christ, let it take hold of the whole of our lives.
Fasting is all about acknowledging what supports us in our religious commitment. We all need food to sustain human life but once this sustenance is reached we want to be free of seeking the kind of pleasure it provides when it gets in the way of where lasting and abiding joy are to be found. The discipline this demands is real but it opens our hearts to where an abiding satisfaction is found, where we are sustained by and filled with the grace of God.
In his article Becker after experiencing the benefits of fasting, tells of how he felt:
“compelled.. to track down de Vogüé’s book [To Love Fasting: The Monastic Experience] and [says]I eagerly devoured it (pun intended) … As is always the case with the sons of St. Benedict, they were way ahead of their time, they were ahead of the times, and monks have been intermittently fasting (off and on) for a good millennium and a half.”
Becker goes on to say:
And what’s especially noteworthy in de Vogüé’s account is that the laity often followed a parallel discipline in the earliest days of the Church, at least during Lent, and the People of God imitated the Regular Fast of the monasteries without undue hardship. Whether monks or lay people, those who had specific caloric and nutritional needs — like the young, the sick, the elderly, as well as those performing hard, physical labor — were not encouraged to undertake this discipline, but the majority could do so without difficulty.
Indeed, I’m happy to back that up based on my own experience. Heck, I’ll even go so far as corroborate de Vogüé’s wild assertion that if you give it a go, “you will love it.”
Fasting can be a delicate issue, especially if one has health problems but it is well worth pursuing if one is in search of the inner freedom that allows us to be open to the abundance of God’s grace. One way of looking at it is simply the desire to be free of self-seeking and satisfaction so as to be filled with a love of God and neighbor that gives us authentic fulfillment.
The greatest danger that Becker became aware of is spiritual pride, a tendency to think oneself better than others because of an ability to fast. He wondered too as to whether he should go public about his experience as I am to speak about it here this morning. Those words of Jesus come readily to mind: “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to other to be fasting.” Again the subtle pride that may seep in.
Becker concludes with a reference to Pope Paul VI’s 1966 Apostolic Constitution on Fast and Abstinence:
“The Holy Father notes that ‘change of heart’ (“Metanoia””) through embrace of Christ and the Cross is requisite for all Christians. It’s a lifelong journey of conversion that is accomplished interiorly, but which ought to be manifested exteriorly. ‘Therefore the Church,’ writes the Pontiff, ‘invites everyone to accompany the inner conversion of the spirit with the voluntary exercise of penitence.’”
Whatever we may decide to do in each of our lives, is to strengthen the community life we live, to free our hearts for that love that brings us ever closer together in Christ’s love and peace.