On Fasting and Renovation

At PrayTell Fritz asks an excellent question when confronted by a homily:

(T)he preacher said that there was no point giving something up for Lent if we were simply going to gorge ourselves on it on Easter afternoon. The point, the preacher continued, was to use Lent as the occasion to make a permanent change for the better in our lives, and that if we keep doing this God will over time come to have a more central place in our lives.

I don’t fathom Fritz’s complaint about possible pelagianism. Any self-initiated thought or action can fall into the category. Is Lent really about a collective of hundreds of millions giving up the occasional meal, hoping it’s the grace of God, and not decades of Catholic habit?

Instead I would turn to the thought of Lent as an intense preparation period for the Easter sacraments. When the blogger says, “Lent is for giving up good things so that we can come to appreciate more deeply the God who is the source of all good things,” I think this is true to a degree, perhaps more for the baptized who approach Lent as a time of personal devotion.

But for the elect, Lent is a period of purification and enlightenment. Their Lent is indeed about giving up bad things–like a New Year’s resolution. And maybe we do well to imitate that for people coming to baptism.

So I would say that sure, we can give up sweets for the next forty-five days then indulge a bit after the Easter Vigil. Maybe it’s a bit of the ascetic in me, but sometimes I’ve felt a bit of regret eating that piece of cake at the Easter Vigil reception. Like I was saying good-bye to a friend for another year. And really, would my life be better or worse for declining that slice of angel food with strawberries and syrup?

My own pastor preached about the importance of seeking a change of heart to go with the outward practices of fasting, praying, and almsgiving. I may not have the same moral challenges I had as a teen or young man. But I’m sure I have enough to parcel out one a year to ask God to take away and not run out before I die.

Metanoia: that’s what I think Lent should focus on. We turn it around. In some small way, or in some major way. Either way, we rely on God’s grace to help us. When I sink my teeth into that spongy confection on Easter, I’d like to think I’d also be bringing a new perspective and some positive habit into the Fifty Days that has helped me walk closer to Christ. I really don’t want May to look just like February.

The Benedictine Theodore Wesseling offers an apt thought:

As a period of purification, Lent is not merely a period of bodily fasting. It is a period of general readjustment, of thorough renovation from the outer spheres of life down to the roots of its innermost fibres.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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1 Response to On Fasting and Renovation

  1. Mollie says:

    I was glad to see this post from Fritz, because I ran into a similar issue with our RCIA group — trying to explain the traditional practice of fasting (voluntarily sacrificing some good) to people who’d been told “Don’t just ‘give something up’ for Lent — do something good!” (As though the two are incompatible.) I’m not smart enough to know whether Pelagianism applies, but I do think Fritz is right and the homilist is very wrong to suggest that fasting as traditionally understood is worthless. Obviously we should be encouraging people to take seriously the call to conversion (or “renovation” — good term!) during Lent. And if “giving up” a bad habit is the way people make that happen, great — I don’t think I’d go so far as to say Lent isn’t “for” that. But for a homilist to say there’s “no point” to self-denial as such is troubling. Especially since the homily fell on a day when the Church tells us to fast on food. Would the same priest say that exercise is worthless? I assume not — but I’d like to ask him to think more about it.

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