Monday, March 26, 2012

Lenten Fasting and Sacrifice

We are well into the Lenten Season. Its 40 day period started weeks ago, beginning with Ash Wednesday, a day which rightfully reminded us of our nothingness; our humble heritage of earthly dust in which all of us are destined to return. On the last week of the season we are reminded of Christ’s sufferings in Calvary by reliving in our minds or in ritual, the Via Dolorosa through its re-enactment of the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. Easter Sunday marks the Resurrection of our Lord heralded by the triumphal and joyful Easter songs about the glory of the Risen Christ. Lent is the time when we take stock of our Christianity, the way we led our lives under it, our faith, the owning up on our faults, our forgiveness of those who erred against us and importantly, the resolution to further our commitment to do good as enlightened and inspired by the glory of the Resurrection.
As tradition would have it the season of Lent is a preparation of our beings and our hearts. Thus the folk practice of flagellation and being actually nailed on the cross as seen in central Luzon provinces, walking on knees in churches, and mortification customs of fasting and abstinence and little sacrifices during Lent is prevalent. The preparations are mostly meditative, inward and self gratifying; perhaps we should consider another way, by doing it towards an outward action which benefits others. Fasting and abstinence are performed, the giving up of little items of whim and caprices; these little sacrifices help shape and mould our hearts to make it more predisposed to a reliance in God. However, it is said that inward acts of piety will be God’s delight only when it brings forth an outward fruit of the devotion. Perhaps we should look at fasting as something that is not about food. Fasting should lead us to understand and to relate to those who actually experience hunger and with the realization of its insiduousness compel us to act to satisfy the wants of the impoverished and those oppressed by this deprivation. 
Giving up something during Lent does some good, but mostly to ourselves; they do not translate into something that is positive and tangible for others. Instead of giving up things we can consider doing positive outward things; transforming a passive act into something proactive and of value to other people. 
The late Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, an active proponent of liberation theology and a populist champion of the Salvadoran poor during his time, was a believer of this. He said:
 People do not mortify themselves during Lent out of a sick desire to suffer.
God did not make us for suffering, If we fast or do penances or pray, it is for a very positive goal: by overcoming self one achieves the Easter resurrection.
We do not just celebrate a risen Christ, distinct from us but during Lent we prepare ourselves to rise with him to a new life and to become the new persons that are what the country needs right now”.
He made a point about Lenten fasting as something that is very different in places where people are well fed such as the US, Japan, Germany etc. as opposed to those in the third world nations; of the starving poor in North Korea, Ethiopia, in India and the starving tribes of African states who are constantly in civil strife. They are living in perpetual Lent, always fasting. For most rich western states whose populations are up to their necks in food, Lent is a call to austerity and a call to self deprivation in order to share with those in dire need of food; a sacrifice that ennobles fasting and gives meaning to the supreme sacrifice at the cross.
Whenever we give up something that does not translate into an act which ameliorates the condition of the many poor, the suffering involved in this sacrifice does nothing more than hardens our souls. What seems an abstemious act by denying ourselves severely may just be an act that pleases us act of suffering devoid of meaning and has no real value of its own except for the fact that it may be merely a test of one’s faith.

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