This time last year Team Magazine posted an article entitled: Pope Francis’ Guide to Lent: What You Should Give Up This Year (click to see original article) in which this acid spraying dinosaur (joking of course)…
…challenged the traditional Lenten Season norm of private fasting. Pope Francis instead challenges Christians to fast from something more spiritually practical–what he calls, global indifference a.k.a Christian Apathy.
Many Christians, not just Catholics, observe the season of Lent with some form of fasting. Some people use it as a time to kill two birds with one stone and become more spiritual fit and physically fit at the same time by fasting from candy, alcohol, sweets, you name it… If we “have to” fast we might as well shred some pounds right? Pope Francis would probably agree but not because we gave up sweets. His “popeliness” calls Christians to purposefully fast from indifference during Lent. That is, not turning a blind-eye to people in need. He quotes John Chrysostom saying, “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”
Chrysostom is being reference a little out of context here. Saint John is really trying to critique the ancient Christian practice of Asceticism, which means intentionally hurting yourself, fasting until you are malnourished, or putting yourself in intentionally uncomfortable situations by yourself in order to reach some new spiritual plane. This practice became all the rage after the Christian lifestyle became culturally acceptable in the Early Church and one would not reasonably expect to be martyred for their beliefs. So the next best thing: Hurt Yourself! Chrysostom is calling Christians back to the Mission of God–saving the world! What good does torturing yourself do? Christ was beaten and mocked and scorned but he didn’t do it to himself. Others did it to him because he was on mission. So, I might wind it back a step and challenge that there is NO worth in private fasting that doesn’t actively serve others. The Scriptures call us to quiet reflection, contemplation, and fasting in secret that only the Father sees. Still, the pattern of Scripture is that fasting is a preparation of service–the service of others. Picking up on this biblical vein, the Pope wrights, “Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience…whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.” He continues that, “We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”
Ash Wednesday is tomorrow, March 1st. If you plan on observing this Christian season of self-denial and identifying with the pain and temptation of Christ in the wilderness, what if we took the Pope’s advice from 2015 and used this time to fast from apathy? At SAWC our #4 Expression states: We tangibly extend hope to those in need. What if we spend our time leading up to Easter intentionally looking to be the hands and feet of Christ to those in need. Pope Francis says he distrusts charity that “costs nothing and doesn’t hurt.” While I do believe that God sometimes calls us to go the extra mile in ways that are truly painful and uncomfortable, some Christian service is mutually beneficial. In fact, the Scriptures often tell of how our obedience in the small things actually turns around on us in the form of blessing after blessing. This Lent let us practice the Joy of Christian service by fasting from indifference. And heck, maybe some of that Christians service will have us sweat out a few pounds as well!