The Padre’s Ponderings: A Blogpost for Ash Wednesday

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The Great Fast: Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2017

In the Orthodox Church, the season of Lent is often referred to as “The Great Fast.”  The name expresses the severity of the requirements imposed on its members during the Forty Days—abstention from meat, meat products, wine, oil, fish, eggs and dairy every day with the exception of Saturday and Sunday when wine and oil are permitted. Now that’s a fast! It may be both physically and spiritually healthy but it’s far from easy and one needs to be very creative in order to plan a menu that both nourishes the body and satisfies the canon of the fast. Needless to say, most folks can’t do it and usually observe some hybrid version of it.

Fasting, however, is an ancient tradition and has clear scriptural references, one of the most obvious being Jesus’ mention of it in the Gospel read on Ash Wednesday. “And when you fast…”

What are we to make of it? Is it simply obsolete?  Too unrealistic?

Maybe not. Clearly, there are things all of us can eliminate from our diet in order to improve our health and prevent serious health issues down the road. That’s one way to fast and it’s certainly commendable.

Here’s another: how about fasting for the sake of justice? It might be fasting from a product whose production means horrible working conditions for poor laborers. It could be fasting from a commercial business that discriminates against minority groups or refuses to pay a decent wage. It could be refusing to support a company whose billionaire owners give nothing or a penitence to charitable organizations. It might be fasting from media venues that encourage a culture of hate and revenge. It could be fasting from people whose rhetoric and behavior is really toxic (but we can still pray for them). Or it could be fasting from television programs that embody violence and exploitation.

In her book, Lent: A Time to Choose Direction, Joan Chittister writes: “Lent is our time to prepare to carry the crosses of the world ourselves. People around us are hungry; it is up to us to see that they are fed, whatever the cost to ourselves. Children around us are in danger on the streets; it is up to us to see that they are safe. The world is at the mercy of economic policy, foreign policy, and militarism; it is up to us to soften the hearts of leaders in government so that the rest of the world can live a life of dignity and pride.”

The way I see it, a fast that responds to that understanding of Lent can be both life-giving and long lasting. What might you and I need to forgo in order to make that kind of difference in our world?