Over my soon-to-be 73 yers I have had to let go of many friends, careers, family, cherished possessions even understanding of my identity. I’ve shed a few unhealthy addictions, more than a few preconceptions, even conceded — reluctantly — that I’m not always right. Cruising deeper into my eighth decade of circling the sun, spontaneous body aches or episodes of vanishing memory suggest a lot more yielding, giving-way, mini-deaths lie ahead.
Lent 2023 gave me pause. The forty days just past could not have been more different from prior religious practices and disciplines. Probably lethargy. Perhaps a deeper integration of the spirit rather than the letter of the law? A sign of maturity rather than rote obedience? I wish!
Nothing expresses this conundrum better than my largely discarded, dismissed and devalued Lenten practice of fast and abstinence. How strange that seems. Catholic discipline excuses those of us over 65 from the obligation to fast or abstain from meat. Early religious formation explained that this exemption was to preserve the health of the elderly.
Now a self-proclaimed old-timer, I beg to differ! I have come to believe that by the time we merit senior status spiritual practice is either cruising along well on auto-pilot or its truly inconsequential. Whatever, at my age, I still bristle when anyone tells me what to do (didn’t I just say that much more letting go and mini-deaths undoubtedly lie ahead)!
A bright flash pierced my inattentiveness when I happened upon these words by Judy Cannato this week, an author of whom I had never heard:
Even little resurrections that come after choosing to die to fear and egocentricity release the Spirit. When we engage in a lifetime of death and resurrections as Jesus did, we become ever more empowered to do the work God asks us to do.
How humorous that I’d be given this awareness during Easter Week! It sure would have enriched my experience of Lent 2023. Or, would it have?
I’m embarrassed to say, with all the Catholic heritage and sophisticated theological education I’ve been given, I have never really made the connection between fasting/abstaining as a mini-expression of the Creator’s invitation — even when my desire is feeble — to die with Christ that I might rise with Christ, not one festive day in the not-so-far-off future but daily, if ever, in the here and now.
Okay, perhaps that was always the point and was there all the time. Honestly, it never really sunk in! I simply didn’t recognized any efficacious connection with empowering me to do God’s work in the world nor appreciated how fasting and abstaining offers practice for sharing in Christ’s resurrection.
Too many church disciplines and pious practices seem so dismal, hardly more than a regimen to earn our own salvation. How ironic that this renewed awareness was given during Easter Week. Obviously, it’s time to take these spiritual siblings from the shelf, dust them off from years in storage and revive them as efficacious practices for disposing us to God’s grace.
Clearly, Lent 2023 yielded its own fruit despite my inattentiveness. And today, Friday in the Octave of Easter, a weekly day of abstinence might very well be a good place to start — no, not Lent, but starting with the Fridays of the Easter season! Being a vegetarian should provide no out! Excuses and explanations must give way to desire and generosity. For example, I could well substitute abstaining from sugar as an alternative! Creativity welcomed.
If my years have taught me anything it is that time is insistent. There’s so much of which we must let go, yield, give up. Occasions cascade, options narrow. God knows we need the practice.
From this renewed perspective and with only self-imposed obligation, I now choose to abstain, and fast!
Judy Cannato’s fuller reflection is within a Daily Meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation. https://cac.org/daily-meditations/watchful-for-resurrections-2023-04-12/