I don’t like to fast. Lent starts with a fast, and it is something I dread. However, I’ve realized something obvious: I’m not the only one fasting on Ash Wednesday. I’m not the only one called by the Church to remember that I am dust, and to dust I shall return. I’m not the only one called to say “no” to myself and “yes” to Jesus Christ and his Church.
Fasting, which is a form of voluntary suffering for the sake of Jesus Christ, serves a very important end. Pope Benedict, in his encyclical Spe Salvi, reflects upon suffering as a gateway to learn hope and love:
It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater (37).
Through fasting, we are reminded of our own dependence upon food, which can remind us of our real dependence upon God. It can remind us that we do not exist for ourselves but for God and our neighbor. It is ironic, but the voluntary acceptance of suffering and self-denial can lead to a greater love of God and our neighbor.
In the season of Lent we are called to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These are recommended that we might see ourselves more and more in the light of the Holy Spirit; that we might turn away from sin and toward God and his Church, who is the true source of life, love, and hope.
It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it, and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love” (37).
The irony of Lent is that through suffering and self-sacrifice, our capacity to love is increased. Suffering teaches us that we are not the center of the universe and that center is Jesus Christ. Our small sufferings unite us to the cross of Jesus Christ and give us a glimpse of the infinite love he has for us.
May God grant you a holy Lent and a joyous Easter. May this be a time to grow in love of Jesus Christ and of his Church.