How should the Christian prepare for this birth of the Lord of Life? As with all human births there is both joy and suffering. Fasting calls to mind that aspect of suffering in a way that is fitting to receive the Lord. I propose three areas of consideration for fasting: fertility, finances, and time. Fasting in each of these areas makes room in the soul for the Redeemer.
These three problematic areas for the Modern Christian hinge on who the individual believes Christ to be. If Christ is just another wise thinker or a compassionate social worker, then these suggestions do not make sense and seem extreme. If one holds that Christ is the pearl of great price, then one is willing to sacrifice all to possess Him. These three areas, I think pose a particular challenge for Christians today, though admittedly, they might be more difficult at various times of ones life. Be that as it may, I think the areas of fertility, money, and time provide a practical way to fast in anticipation of Christmas.
Fasting is an act of the will to forgo something good for the purpose of self-discipline, penance for one’s sins, and sacrifice for love of neighbor. Fasting is not only about food choices nor is it a form of masochism. The one who fasts, acknowledges that the sacrificed thing comes from God, and the penitent seeks to make a return back to the Giver. This free return is a sign of self-mastery. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches §2043 in regards to fasting states, “times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us to acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.”
A person’s fertility is a great gift from God. It is not a curse or burden to be managed at will. Rather, it pertains to the very propagation of the human race and is an act of co-creating with God. As such, one should expect that the Lord would have something to say about how this aspect of our bodies would be treated.
Treating our fertility in accord with the Magisterium, in an age of great debauchery, is most assuredly a fast. To view the sexual act, as one to be engaged in marriage between a husband and wife for the couples sanctification and the begetting and education of children is an understanding our age cannot bear to hear.
This does not imply having as many children as possible. Should the need arise, and after prayerful discernment between the husband and wife, it is licit to postpone or limit the begetting of children. However, the means must be used that are in accord with the dignity of the human person of which the body is a part. To both follow this teaching and encourage others as well is putting Christ at the heart of something deeply profound, a marriage, and this is a direct means of a fast allowing room for Christ. A Daughter’s Request [My post on Natural Family Planning has resources for the couple.]
The second area problematic for modern man is money. With the use of credit in all of its forms, one gets quickly detached from the idea of restraint. Tithing, using the classical definition of 10%, off the top, at the beginning of the month, is a decision of the will to fast. It is not possible to both tithe and be whimsical in spending. To tithe requires a plan, a budget, communication, shared goals, and delayed gratification.
The tithe is a clear statement that the Lord is in control of all of my life, of which money is one part. Opening up one’s wallet on Sunday as the plate is rolling by and seeing which bill can be parted with is not a conscious decision to allow Christ to have Lordship over one’s possessions. It is more of an afterthought or perhaps even embarrassment from seeing others contribute, if that.
Advent is a perfect time amidst the copious amounts of spending, to reassess financial priorities. Choosing to put tithing before extravagant presents is a sure means of making room for Christ. I recommend Dave Ramsey The Total Money Makeover to help in the management of personal finances.
Lastly, time is another area difficult for modern man. A mark of being successful is being busy, a calendar full of activities and commitments. God creates time, it belongs to Him, and how we make use of it will need to be accounted for at our particular judgment.
Yet, do we fast from the business of life and make room for God in our schedule? Is the Lord in charge of my schedule? Do I give Him a few seconds here and there if that? At different seasons of my life, I have had different approaches to prayer and the attendant time required. Some ratio of study, meditation, and contemplation is needed. A community of believers is vital in pursuing this desire of prayer for it is very easy to get off track and downplay the areas of spirituality. An objective reality can quickly become only a subjective experience.
Putting the Lord at the head of the calendar will require fasting in our age. A lot of activities are scheduled on Sunday. The faithful family has been put in the box of either choosing an activity or attending Mass many times. The choice for God can provoke irritation amongst those who do not understand the choice and so to avoid embarrassment of losing out, missing Holy Mass is chosen.
Daily prayer also requires fasting. Consistency is essential to a fruitful prayer life. Beginning and ending the day in prayer with moments through the day keeps a soul tethered to the Lord. A meaningful and concise book on prayer by Fr. Jacques Philippe, A Time for Godis helpful. Consider this insight from Fr. Philippe, “But time is not always the real problem. That real problem is knowing what really matters in life. … Our attentiveness to God will teach us to be attentive to others.”Are we willing to make the sacrifices needed to make room for time with God?
The Word of God is worthy of our ascent, all of it. Fasting in the areas of fertility, money and time, allows us the space to be filled with God. God filling our souls is the peace beyond all understanding and the pearl of great price. Let us reflect on Our Lady, whose entire life was a Fiat, a Yes.
Did Our Lady want her only Child born in stable full of animals? She fasted from her maternal desire to have Joseph prepare a suitable habitation for her Child. This fasting allowed the Lord to be born in poverty, and thus be accessible to all men not only those of status. If the Lord had been born in comfort and privilege, could he have been as readily accessible to all?
Dear Theotokos, teach us to fearlessly fast from earthly attachments such as in our fertility, money, and time and so be ready to receive the Word of God in His fullness during this Advent season and throughout our lives.