Sunday, 1 March 2009

1st Sunday of Lent, Shaftesbury

There are many fashions and fads that come and go, and one thing that is fashionable in some circle is detox diets: to go without food for a prolonged period of time in order to flush out all the toxins, artificial food products, e-numbers, etc that build up in our bodies. I’ve tried this many times, my longest being for 3 days on just water, and I can testify that it does indeed leave you hungry. It supposedly has many other effects, beneficial effects that we cannot see –I didn’t FEEL these effects but its only reasonable to think that there are effects that we cannot see or feel.

Now, people do all this just for the sake of the body. And, in a modern world where many people deny the existence of the soul, when the body is all you believe in then it is hardly surprising that some people should get fanatical about caring for the body.
We, however, as Catholics, know that we are more than just a body, and our health has to include consideration of the health of not just our body but of our SOUL. If there are people who are putting such effort into the health of their body –which is young and spritely today, and decays tomorrow, then we should be putting similar if not greater effort into the health of our soul –which will last for all eternity and if we die with it healthy will be healthy and glorious for all eternity.

This week, on Ash Wednesday, we started Lent. Just as Jesus went out into the desert for 40 days, to fast and pray, we too, as followers of him, spend Lent of each year by giving up something as a form of fasting. Even if what we are giving up is much less that the fasting Jesus underwent for us, it nonetheless has a purifying goal. Just as detox diets aim to purify the body, our fasting aims to purify the soul.

One of the things we need to purify our soul of is the lack of discipline and lack of self-control that features so often in our modern life. Detox diets are a dramatic over-reaction to the lack of self-control in our society –but they’re not typical! Self-control is not spoken of often in our modern world. People tend to speak of self-expression instead, self-fulfilment, self-will, leading to excessive comfort seeking and self-indulgence in food, alcohol etc.
Fasting, giving things up for Lent, is one way of re-acquiring self-control. The self-control we need to love properly, to give freely, to be the kind of people we know we would rather be.

As Catholics, we should know that we need to FORM our character, to daily repent from our sin. We should know that there is a better side to our nature but also a darker side, a side that we need to struggle against: Jesus allowed Himself to be tempted in the desert to start His victory over Satan, but also to show us that we need to resist temptation and that WITH HIM we can be victorious over what tempts us. But to do that we need to CHANGE, to repent.

Lent is 40 days of prayer and fasting and works of charity. Our giving things up for Lent in fasting has as its PRIMARY goal to be united with the suffering Christ, who suffered on the Cross for us and in the desert for us, but it has an important secondary goal too: to detox us from our appetites, and passions, and false priorities. To do that properly, our fasting must go with prayer –so that it doesn’t just leave us grumpy, but that it becomes something we offer to Christ as a sacrifice for our sins and the sins of others. And, if prayer and fasting change us, even a little, we should love more, which is why Lent is also the time of almsgiving, of works of charity especially to the poor –thus we always we have a collection for the poor.

If there are people spends days detoxing their bodies by huge physical effort, then surely we’d do well to use Lent to detox our souls: If you’ve not yet starting giving something up for Lent, then start today p-even something small can help jus orient our soul to the higher realities and to Christ who went into the desert to teach us to do the same.

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