Check out this great post by Jacob Popcak of JHP Ministry
What pictures come to mind when you hear the word, “fasting”? What about, “penance”? Perhaps you envision the grumpy monk, self-flagellating in some medieval chamber. Or perhaps you see the pious holier-than-thou, starving herself out of some sense of personal loathing. As citizens of the 21st Century, it’s very likely that you envision something at least similar to what I’m describing.
Because of these associations, I always had a really difficult time rationalizing penance, even the menial kinds. Of course, I never gave up anything great than a favorite snack or a less-than-savory habit (in freshman year of college, I gave up swearing). And yet, I had a deep and uncomfortable question that I had to wrestle with: why should I have to be made uncomfortable in my relationship with God? If God really loved me, I thought, and I really loved him, why should the kind of discomfort that came with penance be something I had to take on? Don’t get me wrong: I understood the importance of being able tosuffer for God, if necessary. After all, almost anyone raised Catholic has at least a basic familiarity with the various saints and martyrs who’ve stood up for their faith even in the face of suffering. But there’s something heroic, even dramatic, about suffering. Discomfort, on the other hand, just seemed so meaningless.
I ended up finding the answer to my question, though, in a little document known as The Theology of the Body. A collection of public talks by Pope Saint John Paul II, the document explains – among other things – the sacred beauty of the body, what it means to love others, and God’s plan for human relationship.
Beyond all that, though, one of the central messages of TOB is that our relationship with God is (and should be) like a marriage. If this is a new concept for you, it shouldn’t be an overly difficult one to take in. Where else but the best marriages do we see two people giving themselves completely to their other? Where else but in the best marriages do we a love so great it has the power to change people? Where else but the best marriages do we see a love that is free, total, faithful, and fruitful? The answer to all of these questions is, mysteriously and simply, “the cross”; we see this love – this radical kind of self gift – in the way that God loves us and in the way He asks us to love Him.
But as the best of married couples will tell you, nuptial love isn’t always flowers and chocolates and sweet nothings. Oftentimes, the most sincere communications of love lie in the daily messiness of life. “I knew you were tired” says the bridegroom to his bride, “so I gave the baby his bath tonight”; “I know you’re suffering”, says the bride to her bridegroom, “so I took care of the dishwasher”. The lovers don’t do these things for each other because one is angry at the other, nor because one is at fault and seeks to appease the other, nor because their relationship is suffering. After all, no amount of chores or duties would be enough to even the scale against, for instance, an unkind word, a particularly nasty argument, or – God forbid it – a painful infidelity. Instead, the lovers do these things for one another when their relationship is solid to make it even more solid. They do it because amidst the Saturday chores and the leaky faucets and the could you just make sure the door is locked one more time’s – amidst, as Mother Teresa put it, the “small things” – great love flourishes. This doesn’t mean that the roses and the chocolates are any less real, less sincere, or less necessary ; it simply means that the thorns and the poopy diapers are real, sincere, and necessary as well.
In a similar way, our relationships with God can’t (and shouldn’t) always be sweet. A love as profound as that which is shared between Creator and creation, between bridegroom and bride, cannot be made up simply of inspirational sermons, grateful praise, and merry Christmases; there must also be somber hymns, times of silence, and Good Fridays. Put another way, the marital proclamations of, “It feels so good loving you!” mean nothing if they are not balanced with a “…but I love you when it doesn’t feel so good, too.”
This is the true spirit of fasting, of penance, and of mortification. READ THE REST…