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October 9, 1987     The Message
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October 9, 1987

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FedthToday SuPplement., "1" Mmage' C admllcof Evanmilie;-Octolr 9; 1987 - The spirit of sacrifice Byather Eugene LaVerdlere, SSS NC News Service he early Christians, like the Jews and the Israelites before them, took it for granted that they would maintain regular fast days. For them, the question to ask was not whether or not to fast, but in what spirit. Matthew's Gospel speaks of tho, r. who wanted everyone to kndw that they were fasting. They made sure their faces looked drawn and ashen so all would notice. They were more interested in appearances. Jesus, on the other hand, called attention to how people should fast. What really matters does not show. Their Father sees what is hidden inside and will repay them (Matthew 6:16-18). For centuries, Catholics and many other Christians fasted dur- in the entire season of Lent. If qdEstions were raised about this practice, they did not concern the value of fasting itself but the rules of fasting. But in the past few decades, something happened. Fasting itself was called into question. Did this happen because the true spirit of fasting was lost? Had it become a mere matter for schoolyard boasting when clldren gave up candy in Lent? Did adults take to fasting mainly in hopes of losing a few pounds and improving their appearance? Or did sacrifice itself lose its meaning? Whatever the reason, for most illustrates that fasting can free us. But what should wegive up? When should we fast? No one can tell us; each person's life is unique and changes through the years. Even as our desires cry out for more, we are sickened in body and spirit. This is the cue to look to the prophets, to Jesus and to people like Alice, and to go apart to some quiet place to get in mch with who we are and what we have been called to do. When we are in control, the power these appetites hold over us diminishes and we can live life to the fullest. In this context, fasting makes good sense in the modern world. (Mrs. Hughes is a religious education consultant and a free- lance writer.) people today it no longer is ob- vious why anyone should fast. Yet there is the tradition of fasting, one with solid roots in the New Testament and Jesus' life, to nag us. Suppose we were to re-examine the value of fasting from the point of view of sacrifice. What would it mean? In the Bible, sacrifices, whatever form they take, are expressions of three things: worship, gratitude and communion. Of course, all this presupposes deep faith in God. *Those who offer a sacrifice present themselves before God to praise him, to profess that he is Lord and that they are his subjects. oThey also thank God for all he gives them, for life, sustenance, guidance and well-being. oFirially, they reaffirm and celebrate their fellowship as brothers and sisters in one family of a God who is Lord of all. Today sacrifice can take the form of fasting and fasting can be done in the spirit of sacrifice. Recall the story of Adam and Eve. What God required of them was abstinence from a particular fruit -- not fasting, but close enough. Keeping away from the fruit would mean that Adam and Eve recognized God's sovereignty. Instead, they refused to be his subjects and ate the fruit. Those who never feel real hunger may forget their dependence on God and that they are called to worship him as Lord. So, in the first place, fasting can deepen awareness that God is the source of all nourishment. Fasting then becomes a sacrifice of praise. But those who do not know hunger also may forget to express gratitude to God. For people of faith, the hunger that accompanies fasting and the lesser amount of food taken each day normally should flow into a prayer of thanksgiving. Thus their fasting becomes a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Finally, fasting is not just a private religious enterprise. If we who benefit from rich harvests and good food never know hunger, how will we appreciate the lot of those who go without food everyday? Fasting can help us recognize our relationship to all people. It can move us toward a greater sharing and communion with the poor and hungry. Like the table of Jesus, the Christian table will then be open to all. Our fasting will be a com- munion sacrifice. (Father LaVerdtere is editor of Emmanuel.) I I FOOD FOR THOUGHT People today fast voluntarily for a variety of reasons. Some few in- dividuals go on hunger strikes to draw attention to a special cause. Others eat less while preparing for a special sacrament or special event. What reasons do you see for fasting from food, or from excessive TV viewing, or from some other all-consuming habit? How can fasting open you up to the needs of others in the world? Why did Pope John Paul II and the leaders of many of the world's religious groups fast.when they met in Assisi, Italy, in 1986 to pray for world peace? What does fasting have to do with peace? What benefits can fasting bring to an individual, a family, a community? Second Helpings. People can experience a recurring temptation to escape from the realities of life because "it can be both frightening and fatigu- ing to tackle reality on its own terms day after day," writes Father James Bacik in The Gracious Mystery: Ftndlng God in Ordinary Existence. He pro- vides examples of several common means of escape from life: watching television as a substitute for serious family conversation; turning to drugs and alcohol to avoid honest self-criticism; developing a compulsive work habit to avoid the obligations of personal relationships. To combat the temp- tation to escape, Father Bacik suggests turning to the lives of people "who have successfully immersed themselves in the messy reality of our contem- porary world." One of his favorites is Dorothy Day, for her heroic efforts in providing concrete help for the poor and for her ability to grow in her faith. (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1615 Republic St., Cincinnati, Ohio 45210. 1987. Paperback, $5.95.) I I A town so poor, the Peace Corps uses it for "practice" Peace Corps volunteers train in San Luis, Colorado, then go on to assign- ments in the Third World. It's a good place to see poverty. Nobody knows this better than Father Patrick Valdez, pastor to the 800 residents of San Luis. With financial assistance from the Extension Society, he helps provide for the spiritual and economic needs of this country's poorest of the poor. But he needs your help. With an Extension Charitable Gift Annuity you participate in the work of missionaries like Father Valdez and ensure a guaranteed income for the rest of your life. Besides an initial charitable con- tribution deduction, a portion of your annual income is tax free. And the older you are, the higher the rate. Please return the coupon today for details. Help Father Valdez continue to bring the message of Jesus Christ to the hidden poor in our country. The Catholic Church FT 0934 EXTENSION Society 35 East Wacker [Drive Chicago. Illinois E[DB[D 1 [] Please send me a FREE Extension Annuity Kit with no obligtion. [] Send me information on how Extension is spreading the Faith across America. Rev.ISr.IBr. Mr./Mrs./MIss/Ms. Birth / 1__ Address City .State .Zip This Informatkm wlU be kept strlctl, confidential. 4 II