Lent is meant to be more than just giving up chocolate for six weeks. It’s also supposed to be more than forty (or ninety) days of cold showers or bread and water fasts. At least, that’s what St. John Chrysostom, the golden-mouthed preacher of the faith and Doctor of the Church says.
According to Chrysostom fasting is meant to be an aid in our spiritual journey, not an end to itself.
“Fasting is a medicine. But medicine, as beneficial as it is, becomes useless because of the inexperience of the user. He has to know the appropriate time that the medicine should be taken and the right amount of medicine and the condition of the body which is to take it.”St. John Chrysostom
If our fast is too easy or too difficult it can become “useless”. Fasting needs to be done appropriately considering both internal and external factors. A fast that is not appropriate for the person or immoderately done would be like taking Benadryl for a headache, according to Chrysostom. If we don’t discern our fast we may choose one that does not help our walk with Christ.
However, if done properly, fasting can help us train ourselves to choose the good even when it is difficult.
It is for this reason that [the Lord] asks us to abstain from food, in order to place the flesh in subjection to the fulfillment of his commandments, whereby curbing its impetuousness.St. John Chrysostom
Ultimately, this is what Chrysostom says fasting should do: subordinate our desires to God’s will. Fasting is meant for our spiritual benefit. But, according to Chrysostom, this benefit is not for some indeterminate future time but meant to bear fruit here and now. We need to put our strengthened will and our rekindled desire for God into practice.
But what advantage is it, if we have gone through the fast devoid of works? If another says, “I have fasted the whole of Lent,” you should say, “I had an enemy, but I was reconciled; I had a custom of evil-speaking, but I put a stop to it; I had a custom of swearing, but I have broken through this evil practice.”St. John Chrysostom
Fasting alone is not enough. It’s fruit should be seen in our actions. Chrysostom suggests that there is no advantage or benefit to a thorough fast if good works do not result from it. Taking on extreme penances does no good for the soul if sin remains just as rooted in their life. Do the fast you have discerned is appropriate and spiritually beneficial for you. But let your fast bear fruit in your life.
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