Every four months or so, I have to get my blood drawn. Neither the needle nor the blood bother me. But, the preparation kills me. Fasting for twelve whole hours? Are they kidding me? Does coffee count? What's the earliest appointment I can have? Okay, if I make it at 8am, I can eat right up until 8pm. Maybe I could go to bed early or something so that the pain of fasting won't be so obvious. Those hours from 8pm until 10pm will be pure torture. Of course, there are many nights that I eat nothing during those hours. But tell me that I can't eat for those hours and I become concerned that I could starve to death. And I know that when I arrive at the doctor, the woman with the needle is going to ask me, "Did you follow the fast?" So, there's no cheating. I try to remind myself how there are truly infirm persons who have to do this constantly. I even pray for them. Though, after twelve hours of fasting (7 of them while sleeping), I am in such a weakened condition that I can only pray as best I can.
Okay, I exaggerate . . . slightly. I just want to convey that I can be a bit of a BIG BABY when it comes to fasting. Don't get me wrong. I definitely like the idea of fasting. It is just the whole putting the idea into practice thing that I find . . . distasteful. But, here we are at the beginning of Lent. We are in it now. At the end of the forty days, there will no technicians waving a syringe at us asking us whether we fasted or not. But, if there is even the slightest remnant of some serious level of Catholicism left in a person, his conscience will pierce far more uncomfortably than any syringe. The Church often refers to Lent as "a season of Grace." Imagine that. Fasting is not a torture. It is a gift. "Is that," it might be asked, "just spiritual anesthetic talk just to take the pain away?" Actually--and we all know it deep down--fasting is good for us.
Fasting provides us many gifts. In no particular order:
- It provides us with a clearer self-understanding. When we fast, we sees how we lack self-mastery and our faults become far more visible to us.
- But then, we come to grow in self-mastery.
- We become more capable of resisting temptations of all sorts.
- We think of God more often and pray to him more fervently.
- We become more humble .
- We hunger more for God.
- We are more united to Christ.
- We are more sensitive to the poor and the weak and grow in charity.
- We are more engaged in the spiritual life and more agile in fighting spiritual battles. Our spiritual sense becomes more acute. Like a great general might be able to anticipate and respond to various situations on the battlefield, we become better able to read the spiritual battlefield.
- We are far better able to see our sinfulness, acknowledge our sinfulness, and repent.
- We grow in our love for the Eucharist and the Word.
- We have a far more personal relationship with Christ.
So, we should all take it seriously. We might fail. We might fail many times. We shouldn't give up. If we fail, then we at least know something about ourselves: WE ARE BIG BABIES. So, it has already been a gift. But then, we must pick up and begin again.
Lent is kind of like a spiritual boot camp. If we try and fail, there aren't going to be any casualties. In so many ways, the one we are fighting during Lent is ourselves--our fallen selves. We are purposefully engaged in this battle so that when our most hateful Enemy comes after us, we are prepared to fight him. We will have the resources, the virtue, and the skill to outwit him. The Lenten battle with ourselves prepares us for when the Devil attacks. When he does so, our Lenten boot camp training will kick in. We will know immediately how to turn to our Lord and his army of saints and angels. We will be prepared to stand fast and fight the good fight.
So, if you're kind of a big baby, no worries. This is Lent. It is spiritual boot camp. We are all in it together. (Even the seemingly tough guys are big babies). A little physical hunger and a lot of spiritual reward await us. And we can all encourage one another and pray for one another. To be sure, our enemy the Devil is indeed prowling about seeking an opportunity to destroy Christians and the Church. So that we might not perish at his hands, let's start doing a little training. Let's put our old self to death and put on the new man, Jesus Christ.