February 10, 2016

Encountering Christ in the Fast

I have kept journals most of my adult life.  I write about things that I want to remember.  I record facts that I might need someday, or advice and insights that have made a difference.  I write things down so as not to lose them.
...This article is about fasting.  At the beginning of Lent, the Church exhorts us to pray, fast, and give alms.  These disciplines counter the three-fold concupiscence that St. John the Evangelist describes as "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 John 2:16).

However, while fasting aims to correct a disordered desire for pleasure (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2351), it would be wrong to consider it merely negatively.  If fasting necessarily deprives us of something, it presupposes that we have received a grace, that we have encountered Christ!  In this way, fasting is the means by which we keep the grace of the encounter by renouncing the desire to reproduce the encounter by our own initiative.

C.S. Lewis helps us to understand this point.  In his book, Perelandra, the protagonist, Dr. Elwin Ransom, finds himself transported to an unfallen world where his concupiscence is "suspended" for a time.  Tasting an indescribably delicious fruit, Lewis relates:

"As Ransom let the empty gourd fall from his hand and was about to pluck a second one, it came into his head that he was now neither hungry nor thirsty.  And yet to repeat a pleasure so intense and almost so spiritual seemed an obvious thing to do.  Yet something seemed opposed to this 'reason'....It appeared to him better not to taste again.  Perhaps the experience had been so complete that repetition would be a vulgarity."

In this piercingly insightful passage, Lewis tells us that Ransom's reason for refraining was not that the fruit was evil or that his enjoyment of it was disordered.  Rather, the decision was an act of reverence.  Somehow, Ransom's original experience forbade repetition because, in the first act, he had already received everything.

What about us?  A genuine encounter with Christ always fills us to overflowing and leaves us wanting more.  But "the more" does not come to us by our own power or on our own terms.  "The more" is a gift.  We can only wait for it.  That is why we fast.  Blessed Lent.

- Mother M. Maximilia, FSGM

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