Never had I both hated and so longed for bread in my life.
It was the Lent of my year at Christ in the City that forever changed my understanding of fasting. A group of missionaries and I decided that Wednesdays and Fridays would be bread days: at each meal, bread and water only (ok, and coffee). I ceased snacking, indulging in sweet drinks, comfort food, etc. And of course, it hurt!
But it was the first time in my life that I connected this physical pain to something greater.
No, no…not shedding a few pounds by white-knuckling my way through a 40-day diet that Lent conveniently opportunes.
Rather, I began asking myself questions like:
What do I want to look like on Easter Sunday?
How do I want to present myself to the Lord at the Mass that celebrates His resurrection?
For the first time, I dove into the paradox of Lenten fasting and Easter feasting. How often we hear about this paradoxical combination in Scripture! Fasting and feasting, abstinence and abundance.
The Church in Her wisdom understands that God has woven paradox into the fabric of reality. The Liturgical calendar reflects that understanding, and we, disordered in our fallen human nature, need to embrace paradox for our salvation.
Christ in the City’s mission to “Love until it Hurts” is full of paradox.
What did St. Teresa of Calcutta mean by those words? Gazing up at the life-size Crucifix in the Missionaries’ of Charity chapel, praying with them after Mass before we started our day…I began to get a sense of that paradox.
Each full day at Christ in the City gave me a better understanding of our mission. Spending hours on the streets, in the shelters, at Lunch in the Park, praying Divine Mercy chaplets and lifting up my homeless friends in prayer; through the ups and downs of community life, praying the Liturgy of the Hours together, cleaning the laundry room, cooking with my crew and giving thanks at day’s end and, finally, sleeping… those full days taught me to live that paradox.
Love until it hurts.
This love that hurts is not just for our hearts and our heads to experience; it is also for our bodies. Never had I both detested and so longed for bread in my life as I did on some of those Wednesdays and Fridays that Lent, being so tired of it and yet so hungry.
But in that pain, I discovered the vitality that comes from fasting and abstinence alone. In other words, by finally allowing myself to enter into the pains of actually fasting from food and abstaining from certain regular or unthinking behaviors, I in turn allowed the Lord to open up to me a whole world of silence and further reflection.
What does God want me to look like at Easter?
What is His dream for me to ‘look like’ at the eternal feast in heaven?
I invite you today to consider fasting and abstinence not as rules imposed, but as an invitation to deeper relationship. In choosing to withhold from the “quick fillers” we unintentionally “worship”, we make space for the Lord to reveal Himself in a still, small voice (cf. 1 Kgs 19:12).
You are the gift He wishes to receive. What—who—will you present to Him on Easter?
Take to heart the Lord’s Word: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel!” And have courage: you can do this — for He, Emmanuel, is with you!
Jayne served with CIC in 2016-2017. She works now in a bread bakery seeking God’s will for “next,” only to find that “now and at the hour of our death” are the only moments of our lives that really matter.