Notes for a Homily at the Beginning of Great Lent
Fasting without intention is of no value. Fasting just because “That’s what we do at this time of year” is not fasting: it is meaningless ritual.
Fasting with a legalistic mind is of no value. To spend time scrupulously determining what can’t and (even better!) can “legally” be consumed is not fasting. It is meticulously “weighing out tithe of mint and anise” and missing the point.
Fasting with a resentful heart is of no value. Complaining – either to yourself or to others – about fasting is not fasting. It is resentfully fulfilling the “letter of the law”.
Fasting in the hope of reward is of no value. To fast in order to gain – God’s blessing, heavenly reward, spiritual benefit, the approval of the clergy, the positive opinion of other – is not fasting. It is some weird form of “spiritual accounting”.
Fasting with judgment is of no value. To compare your rigorous fasting (and, presumably, greater holiness) with another person’s inadequate fasting (and, presumably, spiritual weakness) is not true fasting.
Fasting with competition is of no value. Fasting is not a game in which there are “winners” and “losers”. There is no competition either with yourself (“I will beat last year’s strictness this year”) or with anyone else (“I will fast more strictly than X does”).
Fasting with substitution is of no value. The lavish “cream” cake made with artificial eggs and non-dairy “cream” and the “fake meat” are not fasting foods: to use them as such is simply fraud.
Fasting with advertising is of no value. Drawing attention to the “hardship” of fasting, whether by words or appearance, is not fasting: it is seeking the “praise of men”. This includes drawing attention to the fact of fasting: “I can’t eat meat because I am required to give it up for Lent.”
Fasting for reasons other than fasting is of no value. A fasting diet may contribute to weight loss and improved health, but that is not the reason for fasting. It is not fasting; it is dieting.
Fasting without fasting is of no value. Abstaining from foods and drinks that are not normally consumed or not enjoyed is not fasting. A vegetarian cannot “give up meat” as a fast, nor can a vegan “give up meat and dairy products.” Nor can a child who loathes broccoli give it up for Lent!
Fasting that is wasteful is of no value. Spending more time and money in the preparation of fasting food so that is does not taste like fasting food is extravagant waste. As is buying (and paying for) a Big Mac without the meat, cheese or mayonnaise!
Fasting that is disrespectful and causes unnecessary offence to others is of no value. If a person in poverty offers hospitality in the form of the only food they have, which is not fasting food, refusing that hospitality is rude and gives the impression of an assumption of spiritual superiority. Showing love and generosity of spirit, and abstaining from the appearance of judgment, is more important than physical fasting.
Fasting that is injurious to health is of no value. Fasting is not a form of self-martyrdom. It must take account of the genuine needs of the health of the body, and of any medical conditions. Abstinence that causes physical illness or injury is not fasting: it is masochism.
Fasting that is only external is of no value. Meticulously abstaining from food and drink that is not permitted while lying, gossiping, judging, cheating, coveting….or committing any other sins, is not fasting: it is hypocrisy.
Fasting that imposes on others is of no value. The employee who, because of tiredness, distraction or weakness due to fasting and therefore is unable to work efficiently or safely is not truly fasting: the employee is cheating the employer. The person who lives in a household that is not fasting, but expects others to prepare special fasting meals for him or her, is not truly fasting, but rather expecting special treatment.
Fasting alone is of no value. If we are to abstain from some things (both externally and internally) so we must actively engage in others: forgiveness, charity, generosity, compassion, prayer……Negative spirituality (that which I give up) must be balanced by positive spirituality (that which I take up).
Maintaining an obsession with the strict external rules of fasting is easier than abstaining from evil and cultivating goodness. And that form of fasting is of no value. Indeed, it is spiritually destructive.