Peace and blessings in the Name of Jesus our Lord and Most High Priest;
As we prepare to enter into the Holy Season of Lent, I thought it would be appropriate to share some reflections on this special time of the Church year. Tomorrow (Wednesday, February 17th, 2021), we begin our Lenten Journey into the metaphorical desert with Ash Wednesday. Lent is traditionally a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It is also a time when we prepare ourselves for the mysteries of Easter. The Forty Days of Lent are intended to represent Jesus' own time of fasting in the desert, preparing himself for ministry.
Preparing for the journey ahead, many feel that they have to uphold certain obligations. I honor these heartfelt obligations as long as they are truly done from the heart and not out of some external pressure or fear that if you cannot meet these obligations you are somehow failing God or that your soul will be in mortal danger.
Our Lord Jesus Christ never forced anyone to follow him. And, in fact, he had some harsh words for religious leaders who imposed their own man-made so-called spiritual regulations.
I often relate that I grew up in a home without much Christian influence and that my early life in faith was decidedly anti-Catholic. With that understanding, after my conversion to Catholic Christianity, it took me a while to warm up to certain faith traditions.
While the Church I represent is fully Catholic, Apostolic, Sacramental, and Liturgical, we don't maintain a legalistic approach to certain traditions, making them obligatory to the point of being sinful if neglected. Our Church, for instance, doesn't enforce "Holy Days of Obligation" or obligatory fasting days, such as during Lent, or abstaining from meat on Fridays. We don't find it helpful to guilt folks into attending church or pressuring them into compliance. We attend church out of our own love of God and an inward calling to serve Him. It is God who places a sense of moral obligation in the hearts of the faithful.
Over the last few weeks, I've written more than one gospel reflection that was critical of the Pharisees creating and enforcing man-made laws as spiritual commandments. Such we feel are the modern commandments to fast and abstain during Lent. In our flavor of Catholicism, we fast and abstain because of an inward calling rather than out of legalistic obligation.
Please understand that we are not against, in any way, the idea of fasting or abstaining from things for pious reasons, nor are we opposed to such good and spiritually enriching traditions. We simply don't find it appropriate to legislate pious activities, elevating them to such importance that the very salvation of our souls hinges on our acquiescing to these man-made regulations.
As the presiding bishop of this insignificant jurisdiction, I highly encourage our faithful to observe Lenten fasts and other pious observances as traditional in their faith communities. They are good for your soul and your spiritual well-being
The Catholic Church has historically observed the disciplines of fasting and abstinence at various times each year. Fasting is the reduction of one's intake of food, while abstinence refers to refraining from something that is good, and not inherently sinful, such as meat. The Catholic Church teaches that all people are to perform some form of penance for their sins and that these acts of penance are both personal and corporeal. Bodily fasting is meaningless unless it is joined with a spiritual avoidance of sin.
St. Basil of Caesarea gives the following exhortation regarding fasting: "Let us fast an acceptable and very pleasing fast to the Lord. True fast is the estrangement from evil, temperance of tongue, abstinence from anger, separation from desires, slander, falsehood, and perjury. Privation of these is true fasting."
History reveals that as with many traditions, including Lent, that Lenten fasting developed gradually within the Church. While fasting before Easter seems to have been ancient and widespread, the length of that fast varied significantly from place to place and across generations. In the latter half of the second century, for instance, St. Irenaeus of Lyons (in Gaul) and St. Tertullian (in North Africa) tell us that the preparatory fast lasted one or two days, or forty hours—commemorating what was believed to be the exact duration of Christ’s time in the tomb. By the mid-third century, Dionysius of Alexandria speaks of a fast of up to six days practiced by the devout in his see; and the Byzantine historian Socrates relates that the Christians of Rome at some point kept a fast of three weeks. Only following the Council of Nicea in 325 a.d. did the length of Lent become fixed at forty days, and then only nominally. The canons of Nicea make no mention of this fasting during lent being required of the faithful. Accordingly, it was assumed that the forty-day Lent that we encounter almost everywhere by the mid-fourth century must have been the result of a gradual lengthening of the pre-Easter fast by adding days and weeks to the original one- or two-day observance. This lengthening, in turn, was thought necessary to make up for the waning zeal of the post-apostolic church and to provide a longer period of instruction for the increasing numbers of former pagans thronging to the font for Easter baptism. Even Easter baptism didn't come into vogue until the mid 4th century. Such remained the standard theory for most of the twentieth century.
As a convert to Catholicism (Old Catholic Tradition), I fell in love with the smells and bells of traditional Western Rite worship -- including prayer and fasting. These are essential parts of our Catholic heritage that add beauty and meaning to our lives of faith. I encourage all my priests and clergy to incorporate fasting and such pious practices into the life of their faith communities. Not only does this help our communities feel a sense of continuity to their Catholic roots, it helps to enrich the spiritual lives of those who practice these traditions.
In the name of Christ Jesus,
P.S. Here is some recommended reading on the "Early History of Lent" https://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/193181.pdf