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Fasting in imitation of the cross

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From the crib to the cross Jesus teaches us that love is not found in clinging, but in letting go, in emptying myself of everything, in love for the other.

Msgr. James P.
Moroney

Fasting is very hard for the world to understand. In a culture which grabs for all the gusto it can get, where folks frequently use those further down the economic ladder as a stepping stone and where, as our Holy Father frequently reminds us, corrupt economic systems seek only to amass wealth and power, "the idolatrous economies, the great world economies that sacrifice man at the feet of the idol of money, obviously keep their balance sheets in the black." (Pope Francis, 13 June 2014)

Fasting is the voluntary "letting go" of that which we can easily acquire and which would even do us some measure of good. It is, in the words of Pope Francis, "a sign of becoming aware of and taking responsibility for injustice and oppression, especially of the poor and the least, and is a sign of the trust we place in God and his providence." (Pope Francis, 10 March 2014)

Fasting is a necessary part of Lent, as the first prayer of Lent on Ash Wednesday when we asked the Lord to grant "that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service." Why did we begin with fasting? The prayer gives us the answer: "so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint."

So fasting, from goods, from money and from pleasures of the flesh somehow makes us stronger? How can we be made stronger by what we don't eat? How can we be made stronger by giving our money away to the poor? How can we be made stronger by denying ourselves the pleasures we long for?

The answer, as in all things, is in the Cross of Christ, and his perfect Paschal sacrifice. What did Christ do upon the cross? He emptied himself of blood, of breath, and of life. He gave all for love of us, every last drop. It is a mystery that begins at Christmas and ends in Easter, as Saint Paul tells us in his Letter to the Philippians:

"...Though [Christ Jesus] was in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross."

From the crib to the cross Jesus teaches us that love is not found in clinging, but in letting go, in emptying myself of everything, in love for the other.

So fasting is nothing but an imitation of Christ's kenotic love. We imitate him by giving up small things, that we might come to be like him in the great work of loving all he sends us even unto death. "Love one another, as I have loved you."

That's what Christ was doing in the desert, "abstaining forty long days from earthly food" that he might consecrate our fast and show us the way that leads to the Cross. (Cf. Collect IV Sunday of Lent)

For by imitating the love, which gives all for the other, we overturn "the snares of the ancient serpent...cast out the leaven of malice," and are led to the Paschal Feast in which the meaning of life is celebrated and lived.

Fasting. Loving. Dying with him on the Cross. That's what Lent is all about.

MSGR. JAMES P. MORONEY IS RECTOR OF ST. JOHN'S SEMINARY IN BRIGHTON.

Msgr. James P. Moroney is Rector of St. John's Seminary in Brighton.

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