Lent, a day of conscious self-purification. We remind ourselves of this by fasting from meat. The idea is to deny ourselves something tasty so we can grow in self-control for the sake of overcoming sinful tendencies.
However, in our modern age when we have an abundance of tasty foods, meat is not the luxury food it used to be. The Church asks us to go meatless on Fridays for an important spiritual purpose. We would do well to enhance this ancient rule by fasting from any and all luxury foods. This is not the day to go out to a restaurant and order lobster!
The purpose of this is to stop catering to our likes and preferences, thus improving how well we turn outward toward others and their needs. Fasting is worthless if we’re unkind to others and we focus only on ourselves: for example, if we’re not releasing those bound by injustices, setting free the oppressed, sharing our bread with the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, and doing good to our family and friends and fellow parishioners.
Fasting from luxury foods has no lasting value if it does not help us become more Christ-like to others.
Why do we forego meat on Fridays? If it’s only out of duty, i.e. if we’re only following the rules as dutiful Catholics, we miss the point and might as well eat steak. Either we’re Christian for the sake of duty and obligation or we’re a Christian of devotion. The dutiful Christian obeys God to the letter of the law. They go to Mass to save themselves from hell. This is a business relationship with God. Our part of the contract would be to obey God and his part of the contract would be to accept us into heaven. But that’s self-focused. And it ignores that Jesus is the only true Savior and that salvation is a gift, which he freely and generously gives to everyone who truly wants it.
The devotional Christian obeys God because of a loving desire to serve him, which overflows to others.
Doing devotions (the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Stations of the Cross, etc.) doesn’t make us devotional. True devotion is an exciting love affair with God in a way that benefits others. True devotion is a love so strong that we cannot look at a person who’s suffering without wanting to help. It’s a love so strong that even when others hurt us, we hurt for them because they have turned away from God, and if we can, we do something that gives them a dose of God’s love.
To have this kind of devotion, we have to first know — really know — that God is devoted to us. To the extent that we fail to understand how wonderfully God loves us, that’s how much we fail to love God, and to the extent that we fail to love God, that’s how much we fail to love others.
© 2016 by Terry A. Modica