PARADOXICAL

The faith chronicles

Thursday, February 26, 2004

 


My Problem with Fasting


I have a problem with fasting. I refer to that kind of fasting being done to seek God’s favor on a certain intention, usually spiritual in nature. My qualm is not that if I fasted, I’d be deprived of my favorite chicken-pork adobo for lunch. It is that if I fasted, it’s as though I was using my own power to further something spiritual, as though God’s grace alone is not enough. Why do I have to bribe the Lord with death-defying fasts? I feel it’s intrinsically wrong to have to earn my way into His favor, much like doing this and that pilgrimage to gain a plenary indulgence.


To further border on what seems like a heresy, there was a point in my life as an active Catholic when I was being asked to fast more than I could chew my favorite meat. It was a time I was beginning to feel too mortified for comfort until such time that I gave it all up, particularly fasting on bread and water, which I find particularly debilitating. It was too much against my voracious nature. If I deprived myself too much, then what is the point of living?, as somebody else put it.


And so for the longest time, I shunned the practice of fasting. I feasted instead. What I offered the Lord were good works and the more convenient way to fast – self-deprivation from TV, radio, movie, etc. I knew I was deceiving myself, though. I was defying the spirit of fasting, I was depriving myself of something I can easily do without. I have long proven that fasting on bread and water or on nothing at all was the most, um, efficacious way.


But it didn’t escape me either that whenever I splurged on food, my intentions – be it to serve as an all-around guy at a retreat, or just to arrange the monobloc chairs and buy tube ice – went less than smoothly. And I am attacked in a special way right after: I get awfully drained and irritated, I feel spiritually dry and spent.


I realized that fasting is for my own protection as well, not just for the benefit of my selfless intention I realized that there’s this annoying opposition watching behind my shoulder, looking out for moment of weakness. Fasting, I realized, is stacking positive spiritual and because that energy is spent again and again in the daily struggle, it needs to be replenished, the thirst has to be quenched - and right away, too. Fasting protects against spiritual weakness; foregoing fasting is therefore especially dangerous when you are about to embark on special spiritual missions. If we are vigilant, the enemy is just as vigilant; it wastes no time in jumping at the chance.


All spiritual activities are sheer grace, it’s true; but it would do well for those who serve the Lord to sacrifice a bit for a certain period of time in the form of fasting, especially from food. Being vessels of grace, servants are special targets of hatred and fury from the enemy, and fasting is a potent weapon against it.


***


A more straightforward explanation on fasting can be found in the Lent 2004 issue of The Word Among Us:


“Fasting is not meant for trying to motivate God to do something for us. It just doesn’t work that way. It’s about learning something from him, rather than earning something from him. … Our role is to find our delight in the Lord. The rest is up to God.


“This is ultimately why Scripture urges us to fast: not for the sake of making our voices heard on high but so that we can love the Lord and give ourselves in service to his people… “


“Fasting that pleases God involves fasting from our fallen nature.”


Fasting also has a social dimension. “…[S]etting free the oppressed, sharing our food with the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and clothing the poor…”


8.13.2001

Updated Feb. 27. 2004



Wednesday, February 25, 2004

 



St. Gregory of Nyssa


(Cappadocian bishop, theologian and spiritual guide, 335-394; To non-Catholics, I hope you’d read the passage for the beauty of the writing, at least, if not for the beauty of the thought.)


“[St. Gregory of Nyssa] developed a unique [spiritual] concept that has been termed the via negativa, or “negative way” of knowing God.


“Gregory’s thinking about this “negative way” flows from the fact that God cannot be known through human reason or senses. His beauty is beyond description. His glory is beyond human comprehension.


“As Gregory wrote in his Homilies on the Song of Songs: ‘What now is meant by [‘Moses entering the darkness and so seeing God within it in Exodus 20:21’]? The true knowledge and the true vision of what we seek consist precisely in this – in not seeing: for what we seek transcends all knowledge, and is everywhere cut off from us by the darkness of incomprehensibility.’


“Was Gregory saying that it is impossible for us to know God? Not at all. Rather, recognizing our human limitations, he proposed a different way entirely: quieting our souls in contemplation before God. Then, the darkness is penetrated, and we come to find glory and joy in the God whom we can never fully comprehend.”


***


“At the root of Gregory’s teaching is the revelation that we are drawn toward God because he made us in his own image and likeness (Genesis 1:26).


“[Again, from Homilies on the Song of Songs, ‘He did not make the heavens in his image, nor the moon, the sun, the beauty of the stars, nor any other thing you can see in the created universe.’


“’You alone are made in the likeness of that nature which transcends all understanding; you alone are a likeness of the eternal beauty, a receptacle of happiness, an image of the true Light; and if you look up to him, you will become what he is, imitating him who shines within you, whose glory is reflected in your purity.’”


“’All the heavens can fit in the palm of God’s hand; the earth and the seas are measured in the hollow of his hand. And though he is so great he can grasp all creation in his palm, you can wholly embrace him; he dwells within you… his entire being pervades you, saying: ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them.’’”


- from Word Among Us (Feb. 2004)



Sunday, February 22, 2004

 

Reward

“God is not loved without reward, but God should be loved without thought of reward.” – St. Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th century




Friday, February 13, 2004

 

‘I am not worthy’


(Sermon per minute)


It’s one of those statements which we might call – no, not double-edged sword, but unintended double-entendres.


First, this statement signifies a genuine acceptance of what is true – a sign of humility.


Second, this statement is also a convenient scapegoat to deny ourselves the chance to shine – surely a proof of false humility. It’s a web of lies in which we allow ourselves to get trapped.


I am not worthy. What an endearing statement. Nobody hates a person more than he’d hate the presumptuous. “I am not worthy because I am not smart enough.” “I’m not worthy because I’m poor.” “I’m not worthy because I’m ugly.” “I’m not worthy because I’m a sinner.” We are properly charmed.


But what an appalling statement as well. What a cause for dismay. For “I am not worthy” can be a chance of a lifetime recklessly forfeited. One rare chance to be of service to the world gracefully declined. “I am not worthy” can be a lame excuse.


I am not worthy. Who is anyway?


***


Prayer:


Not even our heroes and saints felt they were worthy and deserving, but here I am. I am a servant of the universe. Make me of some use as the universe sees fit, not as this tiny world does.




Monday, February 09, 2004

 



Quotes


In the nineteenth century the problem was that God is dead;

In the twentieth century the problem is that man is dead. - Erich Fromm


That which you cannot let go of, you do not possess. It possesses you. - Ivern Ball





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