Thursday, 14 February 2013

What does it mean to “abstain” during the Lent season?

A colleague of mine some time back expressed her curiosity about the meaning of “abstention” during the Lent season, and I, to make a rather brief comment  said that it meant leaving off voluntarily the things you like the most! This, I feel was a rather inconclusive answer, as abstention during the Lent season means much more than just foregoing your favourite food, or even just abstaining from meat, and drink! The Lent season is about introspecting and meditating, it is about trying to understand the ultimate sacrifice being more sober as opposed to being rather boisterous, it is about trying to look within and trying to understand how we have failed throughout the year, and somehow coming to terms with our failings.
A token fast, often done as a duty with a sad expression on our faces, and a loud announcement that we are fasting simply doesn’t count! The Book of Mathew, 6:16-17 reads, “Moreover when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face.”  Fasting or abstention as such is more like a moment of spiritual cleansing that will help make us worthy of receiving The Lord’s Grace, and in effect prepare us for the moment of the ultimate sacrifice marked by the observation of Good Friday which comes  before Easter Sunday.
Abstention or fasting is one way by which we can attempt to have a glimpse and a taste of  the pain and suffering of the Jews in Egypt at the will of God (Exodus 3:9-  “Now therefore, behold the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.”  and Genesis 15:13-14, “Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge;afterward they shall come out with great possessions.”). Jesus himself prophesied his suffering at the will of the Father and  went on to call his disciples to remain prepared to suffer for His sake in the book of Mark, 8: 34-35, “When He has called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever looses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Self denial, self abnegation and abstention lead us towards a greater understanding of the purpose of life which is to nurture and save the soul as opposed to the piling of riches and becoming bound to the materialistic world! It is through pain and suffering that we learn about about liberating the soul from the shackles that tie us to this earth. The idea that those who suffer and die for the sake of the Lord and His kingdom shall also live with Him eternally is present in the book of Timothy, 1:16, “However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all long suffering , as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.”
Thus it is that vicissitudes, tribulations and sufferings make us stronger in our faith, and in any case, it is exactly these things that form the cornerstone of our belief! The forty days of fasting and abstention should not, however be limited to this period before Good Friday. Moderation and sacrifice should be observed throughout our lives and this is what makes us strong and rugged like the acacia tree and the cactus plant that subsist in the harshest conditions on Earth. such a life will surely help us focus on the ultimate sacrifice on the cross, a sacrifice made so that we could have redemption and everlasting life in Christ! Who on this Earth doesn’t want life eternal? The Carpe Diem philosophy is in total opposition to the Christian way of life, and it should not be confused with a life of plenty as it is a life which is spiritually denuded and barren!

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