Our ineptitude with prayer, fasting and almsgiving gains us some incisive instruction from Jesus in how to go about all this growing in friendship with Himself. The last thing Jesus wants is that we are moping around, all sad that we are growing in His friendship. That’s not offering Him friendship, that’s doing no good to ourselves, and is a terrible advertisement to others for being friends with Jesus. Jesus expects us to be happy about growing in friendship with Him.
“And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18)
So, what’s that reward? Why, the reward is growing in friendship with Jesus. And that’s a true joy.
We pray also to know that we cannot pray as we ought as St Paul says. That knowledge hurts our pride, but if we are humble, it is an occasion for rejoicing, as we can then learn and grow to depend on the Holy Spirit, who has us pray through, with and in Jesus: “Abba! Father!” with Jesus, one with Him in the Agony of the Garden. Such solidarity with the Divine Son of the Living God, learning to stay awake, to watch and pray, unlike the not yet saints apostles, Peter, James and John, is a true joy.
We fast to know that we of ourselves are so terribly tied to our basic necessities as if they were the be-all and end-all of our eternal necessities, when instead we will simply turn to dust no matter how well provided we are with this world’s necessities. And that’s tough to learn, as we don’t want to let go of the security we think we can provide for ourselves. Our “security” is no security at all. Our lives can end within a moment regardless of what we think we do. A layman, a hero to me, a great friend of mine, a one-time parishioner, a great friend of Cardinal Ratzinger, basically running the Church in a certain country as best he could, having liberal-ass (sorry!) bishops deposed and better bishops appointed via Cardinal Ratzinger, was dictating a letter to his wife in the evening in their bedroom. He suddenly looked at her and told her that this wasn’t necessary. “Why not?” she asked. “Jesus is here,” he said in great wonder and awe and reverence. “He’s here.” And then he dropped to the floor, dead, called by our Lord, just like that.
We give alms, not letting our left hand know what our right is doing, not counting the cost (gauged by whether or not we congratulate ourselves, gauged by whether or not we have donor fatigue that is proportional to how much we congratulate ourselves)… we give alms so that we know just how stingy we are, of ourselves, learning to grow, then, in the generosity of our Lord, who was so very generous as to stand in our place, the Innocent for the guilty, so that He might have the right in His own justice to have mercy on us.
When we come to know a bit of humble thanksgiving before Jesus, having learned and grown in His friendship, we cannot but rejoice, even in the midst of all the hell of this world that we get to know better through our ineptitude in fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Our heavenly Father so loved us as to send Jesus to us. How outrageous wonderful that we are to be rewarded when Jesus does everything. Our reward is to realize that He is our Savior, our Friend, Christ our God, that He is the One, the only One.
Might it seem that THE LION, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, is asleep while we – oooh! – suffer so much in our fasting, prayer and almsgiving? Sure. But know this, He is the One doing battle for us, providing us with friendship inasmuch as we, in His grace, are humble enough to receive it. Then we realize that He has been the One doing battle the whole time over against Satan, and that He, Jesus, is the last one standing, and we with Him. Do you dare to become closer friends with Jesus this Lent in prayer, fasting and almsgiving? What I mean is… this Jesus, the great Lion of the Tribe of Judah:
The total sum of fasting, prayer and almsgiving is to GO TO CONFESSION!
All that prayer and fasting and almsgiving: so annoying; so aggravating! ;-)
One of our elderly men in the parish was laughing throughout this homily, thinking that what it meant was – as he told someone after Mass – that there was no way that they’re ever going to move me from the parish!
I guess this homily is one of those realistic homilies. It made for a lot of laughter that was admitting that what I was saying is the truth of it.
Fasting with a spiritual purpose is different although overlapping in many ways with mere nutritional dieting, the latter of which can, by the way, also have profound spiritual motivations. After all, we are not Promethean Neo-Pelagian Self-Absorbed Self-Congratulatory Manichaean Gnostic haters of the physical universe, are we? No. After all, our Lord Jesus is Incarnate, the Divine Son of none other than the Immaculate Conception. Some quick points:
Fasting goes way back to the time of the formation of Adam in the Garden of Eden, even before his wife was brought forth. God commanded Adam not to eat that which would harm him, but gave him free will to do as he chooses. Adam did not fast from the forbidden fruit of perceiving any good as admixed with the evil of egoism except if he should assent to enmity over against Satan, assent to the redeeming, saving grace from the Son of the Mother of the Redeemer.
Adam was thrown out of the paradise aspect of the garden lest he attempt to grasp after that which he could not understand, the fruit of the tree of the living ones, feigning unsuccessfully that he could, by his own efforts, thereby gain eternal life, but instead necessarily only hurting himself all the more. Mercifully, the cherubim with the fiercely flaming sword were stationed to protect the tree of the living ones, converting his grasping into receiving if he should humbly so choose.
As we grasp and are then painfully routed by the ardent enmity over against Satan that is God’s love at the end of that sword of the fierce cherubim, we see our weakness all the more clearly, excruciatingly clearly, so that we might choose to give up trusting in our own efforts of grasping and be humbly content with receiving the fruit of the tree of the living ones, thankful for the eternal life we then receive.
But we are weak, and we fall when we choose to grasp instead of receive, setting up gods for ourselves and being delayed in entering the promised land. And we are pedagogically punished, analogously, for forty years of anguish in the desert, learning not to trust in ourselves but instead in the Suffering Servant.
That Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ, would, of course, found mercy on justice and stand in our stead, demonstrating this by being tempted for forty days and nights in the desert, fasting because we had instead glutted ourselves. In those temptations, those mind games of Satan, Jesus answered each and every time – no matter the temptation – with reverence before, obedience to, and love of His Heavenly Father. That is what we must learn: not mind games, but love. He, Love, conquers all.
Brought to the tree of knowing good admixed with evil, the cross, our Lord transforms it into the tree of the living ones, and after we fast in those days of His passion and death, He would have us feast on the fruit of the tree of the living ones, which then we don’t dare to grasp ourselves, but which we then, by His grace, that ancient enmity over against Satan, He would have us instead humbly receive, providing us thus with eternal life.
Fasting is not about saving ourselves, pretending to become ‘stronger’ (preparing for a bigger fall in our pride), but rather we begin, endure, and conclude fasting with friendship with Jesus:
Before: “Jesus, I’m terribly weak, and if I fast I get headaches and am at the ready to be testy with anyone in any situation. Jesus, please, in having me see how desperately weak I am, have me die to myself altogether so as to live only for you, trusting only in you.”
During: “Jesus, I trust in you… Jesus, I trust in you… Jesus I trust in you…”
After: “Thank you, Jesus, for teaching me so much about how you are our only Savior, and that to trust in you is to love you, and be brought by you to our Heavenly Father. Thank you, Jesus.”
I think it was reader sanfelipe007 who mentioned the joy of a young child jumping in the arms of a loving father, squealing with joy, and how much Jesus could not but immediately present such a soul as His gift to our Heavenly Father. I paraphrse. But I really, really like that… squealing with joy…