“My food is to do the will of the one who sent me” (Jn. 4, 34)
- My dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
- We are again privileged with the Season of Lent, a providential opportunity to recollect and reflect on our Christian way of life. The word “lent” refers to the 40th day at the close of the Lenten Season, when we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Thus the 40 days long Season of Lent beginning with Ash Wednesday to Easter Vigil is a period of preparation which is twofold:
- Catechumens by means of catechesis are prepared to celebrate Sacraments of Christian Initiation (i.e. Baptism, Confirmation and First Communion) at Easter Vigil; and
- The faithful attentive to the Word of God and Prayer prepare themselves by way of penance for the renewal of their baptismal promises at Easter Vigil.
- The Lenten Season as it were, calls us to a journey of conversion as the prophet Joel exhorts us: “tear your hearts and not your clothes, and come back to Yahweh your God” (Joel 2,13). Therefore, the season of Lent must be considered by each and every one of us as 40 days of spiritual retreat in which we ought to prepare ourselves adequately for the celebration of the Paschal Mystery (i.e. the Passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ).
- Lenten Season is identified often as a period of penance and deprivation. However, the main focus of Lent ought to be conversion and spiritual renewal; that is, a time to free ourselves from the shackles of sin and all that lead thereto, and to fight all barriers that hinder our relationship with God and with one another such as envy, jealousy, pride etc.
- There are a number of spiritual exercises during Lent that can help us to reach the conversion of heart and experience spiritual renewal such as: Prayer, Lectio Divina, Alms giving and Fasting. From the aforementioned, however, I wish to reflect with you on fasting.
- Holy Scriptures teaches that fasting is of great help to avoid sin and all that lead to it. For this reason, the invitation to fast in the history of salvation is not uncommon. Already, in the first pages of the Holy Scriptures, God commanded man to refrain from eating the forbidden fruit (cfr. Gn. 2:16 – 17).
- When the people of Israel were about to return to the Promised Land, Ezra invited his people to humble themselves and fast. And God listened to their prayer and assured them of His favor and protection (cfr. Ezra 8, 21). The inhabitants of Nineveh upon hearing the appeal of the prophet Jonah to repentance, resolved to fast as a testimony of their conversion. God saw their works and He spared them (cfr. Jonah 3, 9).
- In the New Testament, Jesus brings to light the meaning of fasting by shaming the Pharisees who were observing carefully the requirements of the law while their hearts were far from God. Jesus revealed that fasting entails doing the will of the Father who knows the secrets of man’s heart (cfr. Mt 6, 18). And, Jesus gave witness to this revelation in His answer to Satan at the end of His 40 days of fasting that: “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4, 4).
- The ultimate goal of true fasting, therefore, requires eating “the real food”, which is the Word of God and to do the will of the Father (cfr. John 4, 34). It goes without saying that, since we are burdened by sin and its consequences, fasting is offered to us as a means of conversion of heart to God and neighbour and indeed as an anchor of our renewed friendship with God and neighbour. As, St. Basil notes, fasting was prescribed in the Garden of Eden and the law was first given to Adam. And he concludes that this defense: “you shall not eat” – is a law of fasting and abstinence.
- Depriving oneself of material food which nourishes the body facilitates the inner disposition to listen to God and to feed on His saving Word. Voluntary self denial of food and other sources of pleasure help us to control the appetites of our human nature which is weakened by sin, and whose negative effects invade the entire human race. Therefore, fasting coupled with prayer pave way to God, who alone can quench our innermost and perpetual quest for satisfaction – that hunger and thirst for God.
- While Adam disobeyed the command of God “not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge and evil”; we obey to fast as our submission to God in humility, entrusting ourselves to His goodness and mercy and above all to open our hearts to His love and our neighbour. Therefore, fasting helps us to open our hearts to our brothers and sisters and to care for them and their needs; to confront their poverty, be it material or spiritual, and to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps in alleviating it.
- Hence, true fasting opens our hearts to feed those who hunger, not only for bread but also for love, for compassion to be somebody to someone. To cloth those who are naked, not only for clothing but also for protection like the vulnerable and the abused. To shelter those who are homeless, not only for shelter made of stone, but also that homelessness that comes from having no one to call your own, like the orphaned, aged, sick, widowed, widower and single parents.
- True fasting opens our hearts to quench the thirst of those who thirsty not only for water but also job opportunities and just wages, clean water and proper housing, medical care and educational facilities. To open our hearts to those who long for timely distribution of farming inputs and a proper marketing system. Fasting helps us to set free the imprisoned, not only those in physical prisons but also in mind because they lack educational opportunities to help them make informed decisions; as well as those who lack empowerment so as to make them lead independent lives. And indeed, fasting helps us to open our hearts to the call of a “People driven Constitution”. This is the fasting that pleases the Lord, (cfr. Is. 58, 6 – 7) and this is the fasting that serves the Lord (cfr. Mt. 25, 40).
May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows pray for us as we fast and accompany Her Son Jesus Christ on the Way of the Cross.
+Dr. Alick Banda
Bishop of Ndola