Before the Easter feast comes the Lenten fast.
That historic pattern of the church year seems lost in our
contemporary, consumer-oriented society. Most Christians probably don’t
think of fasting and feasting being interlinked or realize that the joy
of feasting can be deepened by the discipline of fasting.
We’ve forgotten, if we ever knew, that fasting can offer a way of getting in touch with God or can lead to the commitment of sharing food with the stranger. But that is changing as the practice of fasting is proving, once again, its revelatory power.
Still, our ordinary eating pattern seems to share many of the characteristics we usually associate with feasting—eating and drinking the best foods, too often to excess. But we aren’t satisfied. This way of eating may resemble a feast, but the spirit of celebration that is distinctive to feasting is missing.
It also can inoculate us to the suffering of others and so block our compassion. “Those who can choose to eat food for variety and taste are very wealthy indeed and can stand at the table of the eucharist looking like Dives (Latin for “rich,” used in tradition, from the Middle Ages, for the unnamed man in Luke 16:19-31) beside Lazarus,” warns theological scholar Monika K. Hellwig (Eucharist and the Hunger of the World; Sheed & Ward, 2000).
Understand that I have nothing, absolutely nothing, against great meals. One of my fondest memories is the surprise 60th birthday feast my wife threw for me. And many holiday dinners have been memorable celebrations. But in my experience, feasting is always linked with fasting. Let me invite you to see how this happens.
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