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Lent Day 31 - Wednesday

Day 31

Today, I’ll finish reading the passage from my book Mary Worthy of All Praise, from the chapter about fasting.  I hope this has been helpful to you as we come to the home-stretch of the fast.

“Prayer must accompany fasting. These two experiences are like a pair of shoes, identical but different. Can you think yourself prepared to start your day when you only have one shoe on? One glove? If your car’s gas tank is full, but it has no oil? Fasting without prayer is the fulfilling of a rule that will not bring you any closer to the Lord. It's like lifting your hands without prayer, opening the Bible without reading, going to church only to drink coffee and eat donuts in the hall while the liturgy is celebrated in the church. The start is good, but the conclusion is not reached. Fasting is good, but without prayer it has little spiritual benefit.  “Food will not commend us to God,” St. Paul tells us, and neither will the absence of certain kinds of food.

Fasting is a negative action. It’s the only spiritual exercise that consists of not doing something. And so the devil whispers to you, “if you eat peanut butter and jelly for lunch rather than bologna, you’ll become a good person.” Yes. As with most lies, this is partly true. Fasting is a good thing. But will you encounter its essence without prayer? Without some vehicle for self-reflection? The essence of fasting only gains its full spiritual impact through the spiritual discipline of prayer.

And along with fasting and prayer, the fulfillment of self-reflection happens in the sacrament of repentance. The Prodigal Son used his realization of his sinfulness to prepare his speech of repentance, and then he made his way to the father. What would have happened if he had stopped at fasting and self-reflection, as he sat in the muddy field like one more unit of livestock? Nothing at all. Perhaps his bones would still sit there today, under layers and years of dirt and compost. But no. He stood and walked toward the father, with his plan for repentance in his mouth. And when the father came to embrace him, he did not return the embrace until he had expressed the depth of his sin.  The return needed to be spoken forth before the forgiveness could be complete.

This is also the message of St. John the Baptist. What one word piece of advice did he leave as is legacy, his offering, his icon? “Repent!” What one word sermon did he give to Christians of all generations? “Repent!” The people who crossed the Jordan in first-century Palestine made a spiritual journey in order to hear St. John say one word to them. They traveled in groups, enjoying the chance to step out of their ordinary lives and do something special to feed their souls. The wilderness was dry and hot, and the disciples of the Forerunner sometimes had to help people who suffered exhaustion, or encourage those in the crowds to help one another.  They came to weep, to hear the saint say things that would prick their consciences and make them sensitive to sin.

 “Repent,” he said, and this means you. In the sacrament of confession, you sharpen your sensitivity to sin. Sometimes people say to their priest that they don’t believe they need to go to confession in order to be forgiven. They’re right! They need instead to go to confession in order to speak their sins, to feel the weight of sin, it’s ridiculous nature, it’s monotony, it’s determination to draw us away from our saving God. You go to confession in order to hear with your own ears some advice, to hear a human being pray that God would forgive you. Of course, God will forgive your sins when you cry to him alone in your bedroom. But your ability to detect the pernicious grip of sin in your life, it’s wiles and techniques, it’s strategy for defeating your every attempt to become a righteous person is sharpened by the advice of the one who hears your confession – either the priest of God who knows and loves you, and longs even to give his life that you might experience God's forgiving Grace, or the unresponsive pillow under your head, which sometimes offers a certain kind of rest, but speaks forth no hope at all.”

We have come to the 31st day of the fast, my companion on the journey.  God bless us and give us strength as we prepare our hearts to celebrate His resurrection.

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