By Fr. Charles Baxter
The “season of repentance” is now upon us. The journey through Great Lent can seem like a long one, especially when Pascha falls toward the end of April and there’s still snowflakes. This is a time to strengthen our resolve, to renew and honor our best intentions for the fast. While the burden is heavier now, and there is much temptation hurled against us from the adversary, our earthly and heavenly rewards will be great if we “stick to the basics” of the fast and see it through to Pascha.
Diet: OK, this is one of the most difficult things to face up to in that middle part of the fast. The Catholics are grilling steaks, there’s a restaurant with that smell of pork barbecue just outside the door to work, or the image overload on television of hamburgers, pizzas and the like. Another dinner of vegetables, tofu and rice may leave the mind (if not the body) wanting more.
St. Paul has some very good advice about fasting, this is an excellent time to read it over. The fourteenth chapter of his letter to the Romans is a good place to refer. Also, refer back to that reading of scripture from Cheesefare Sunday in sixth chapter of Matthew. Fasting is a private matter between yourself and God. The cravings for those types of foods we abstain from during Lent is a crafty way the adversary puts doubt and fear into our mind. It is also a temptation to heave the heavy sigh and roll our eyes when sharing lunch with our co-workers and grumble something about “yes, I’ll have the green salad again.”
Choosing either a salad or a cheeseburger for lunch will neither get you into heaven nor condemn you to eternal punishment. What you do with and among the persons you encounter in this life will have an effect, however, on your soul. We face a daunting and frightening array of adversity, but we must not lose hope. Drawing support, comfort an sustenance from our family, our church and turning to God in prayer we can withstand these temptations.
Sacrament: One of the single most important aspects of the fast is the frequency and length of church services. Communion is offered more frequently, during the Presanctified Divine Liturgy and Soul Saturdays. Taking the extra time away from the temptations and obstacles in this world to approach our Lord an Savior Jesus Christ in the Sacraments of Confession and Communion is one of the central purposes of this journey. The exercise of preparing to Confess, to receive Communion is strengthening to the soul and the body. By taking the small steps of accountability, prayer and fasting with each Communion, we’re ready to face the bigger and more difficult challenges of this life.
Lent, therefore, is not an extended punishment, but the complete opposite. Let us draw near to the remaining time of the fast with joy and hope, not with grim resolution and despondency.