First Sunday Of Advent: a Little Lent To Get Rid Of A Lot Of Dirt
Saint Basil the Great, (330–379) said:
“Beware of limiting the good of fasting to mere abstinence from meats. Real fasting is alienation from evil. 'Loose the bands of wickedness.' Forgive your neighbor the mischief he has done you. Forgive him his trespasses against you. Do not “fast for strife and debate.” You do not devour flesh, but you devour your brother. You abstain from wine, but you indulge in outrages. You wait for evening before you take food, but you spend the day in the law courts.
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.
Fasting gives birth to prophets and strengthens the powerful; fasting makes lawgivers wise. Fasting is a good safeguard for the soul, a steadfast companion for the body, a weapon for the valiant, and a gymnasium for athletes. Fasting repels temptations, anoints unto piety; it is the comrade of watchfulness and the artificer of chastity. In war it fights bravely, in peace it teaches stillness.”
Are you struggling with a sin? I mean a sin that you just can’t seem to get rid of; a sin that is keeps you in a constant state of guilt and despair? You’ve prayed, you’ve frequented the sacraments, but you just can’t seem to break its hold.
We’ve all been there at one point or another, and such struggles are part of the Catholic spiritual life. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Look at what St. Paul says:
Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and of the spirit, perfecting sanctification in the fear of God. (II Corinthians 7:1)
When St. Paul says "defilement" molusmoj, Pronounce: mol-oos-mos'- The Greek word is only used once in scripture. It means filthy, defiled, soiled. Just plain dirty.
So when we talk about the dirtiness of the flesh and the spirit what are we referring to? What makes the flesh and the spirit defiled, dirty, and filthy?
Listen to the Words of St. Ambrosia:
"What Paul is saying is clear, but "defilement of the flesh" is to be interpreted in a complex way. Notice he did not say "from the defilement of the flesh" but "from every defilement of the flesh" in order to encourage us to flee from all carnal vices-everything which the law prohibits-so that we might perfect holiness of the Spirit in the fear of God."
St. Paul gives us a whole dirty laundry list of examples of filthy and defiled sins:
Because that, when they knew God, they have not glorified him as God, or given thanks; but became vain in their thoughts, and their foolish heart was darkened. For professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. And they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man, and of birds, and of four footed beasts, and of creeping things. Wherefore God gave them up to the desires of their heart, UNTO UNCLEANNESS, to dishonour their own bodies among themselves. Who changed the truth of God into a lie; and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God delivered them up to shameful affections. For their women have changed the natural use into that use which is against nature. And, in like manner, the men also, leaving the natural use of the women, have burned in their lusts one towards another, men with men working that which is FILTHY, and receiving in themselves the recompense which was due to their error.
And as they liked not to have God in their knowledge, God delivered them up to a reprobate sense, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all iniquity, malice, fornication, avarice, wickedness, full of envy, murder, contention, deceit, malignity, whisperers, Detractors, hateful to God, contumelious, proud, haughty, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, God delivered them up: Not by being author of their sins, but by withdrawing his grace, and so permitting them, in punishment of their pride, to fall into those shameful sins. Foolish, dissolute, without affection, without fidelity, without mercy. Who, having known the justice of God, did not understand that they who do such things, are worthy of death; and not only they that do them, but they also that consent to them that do them. (Romans 1:21-31)
If you find anything missing in this list you can also see a dirty laundry list in I Corinthians 6: 9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 4:25-31, Colossians 3:5-7 and 2 Timothy 3:1-7.
I want to introduce you to a very powerful, but much neglected tool in the spiritual janitorial closet. The tool is called Fasting. If you want to energize your spiritual life, if you want to slay a sin that has you in bondage, if you want to grow in union with God, take up the holy weapon of fasting. For as Jesus said, there are some demons that “cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.”
Advent has been called "the little lent" of the Catholic Calendar.
One Catholic Journalist wrote, "In the Catholic Church, Advent is a period of preparation, extending over four Sundays, before Christmas. The word Advent comes from the Latin advenio, "to come to," and refers to the coming of Christ. This refers, first of all, to our celebration of Christ's birth at Christmas; but second, to the coming of Christ in our lives through grace and the Sacrament of Holy Communion; and finally, to His Second Coming at the end of time. Our preparations, therefore, should have all three comings in mind. We need to prepare our souls to receive Christ worthily. That's why Advent has traditionally been known as a "little Lent." As in Lent, Advent should be marked by increased prayer, fasting, and good works.”
SO WHAT’S THE POINT OF FASTING?
Jesus called His followers "disciples." Being a disciple requires being disciplined. Biblical disciplines are designed to bring our physical desires under the control of God's Spirit, because the flesh wars against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh. Nowhere is this more challenging than in the discipline of fasting.
Fasting adds intensity to our search for God, our study of His Word, our sincerity of faith, and our surrender to Christ.
The King of Nineveh called the city to fast as they sought God's mercy. (Jonah 3:6-10.) Ezra proclaimed a fast at the river to appeal to God for protection. (Ezra 8:21.) David fasted in his appeal for the life of his son. (See II Samuel 12:16.) Esther fasted in preparation for making her request before the king. (See Esther 4:16.)
Nehemiah fasted for the king's favor in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (see Nehemiah 1:3-4), and Daniel added fasting to his supplication for the return of the Jews to the Promised Land (see Daniel 9).
In each case, there was an important spiritual objective to be achieved. This focus was in direct contrast to the public show that the Pharisees exhibited in their fasting. “And when you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou, when thou fastest anoint thy head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret, will repay thee. ” (Matthew 6:16-18).
God's goal for fasting is “loose the bands of wickedness, undo the bundles that oppress, let them that are broken go free, and break asunder every burden. ” (Isaiah 58:6)
Some Catholics wonder whether fasting is needed for our day. Their question is understandable since most of us are doing far more feasting than fasting. However, when Jesus was asked by the disciples of John the Baptist why His disciples were not fasting, He explained that while He was with them they would not fast, but when He departed they would fast. (See Mark 2:19-20.) I know many great Christians and Saints who have made fasting and prayer a vital part of their walk with the Lord.
Once, a speaker asked some young people in a church youth group how many had ever gone one whole day without food. No one raised a hand. What a sad commentary on the lack of this discipline in today's church! If you were asked how often you fast for spiritual purposes, what would your answer be?
One husband fasted every noon hour for a month. During this time he memorized Scripture. With the money he saved from buying lunches, he bought a special gift for his wife, which she treasured. If you follow his example I know God will openly reward you!
The rewards of fasting are tremendous! There are spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical benefits from going without food for a period of time. The length of a fast could be anywhere from one meal to 40 days.
Fasting greatly increases spiritual alertness and authority.
When the disciples asked Jesus why they could not cast out an unclean spirit that was tormenting a boy, Jesus answered, “But this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:20).
Notice! Jesus entered the wilderness for fasting in the FULLNESS of the Spirit (see Luke 4:1), but He returned in the POWER of the Spirit. (see Luke 4:14.)
One of the greatest rewards of fasting is finding relief from the bondage of sensual addictions.
The Apostle Paul explains the cause-and-effect sequence in the Christian life: if we sow to the flesh, we will of the flesh reap corruption, but if we sow to the Spirit, we will of the Spirit reap life everlasting. (See Galatians 6:8.) During a longer fast, sensual desires are dramatically reduced. After the fast they may reappear, but a new level of control should be present if the fast was carried out with meditation on Scripture and prayer.
There are also significant health benefits to fasting.
During a fast, harmful toxins are eliminated from the body; the physical senses such as taste, sight, and sound are greatly sharpened; the immune system is strengthened (often resulting in many different diseases clearing up); and the factors that cause aging are greatly reduced.
The oldest person mentioned in the New Testament is Anna. Several factors indicate that she was continuing her public ministry at about the age of 110. However, more than 80 years of her life had been spent in regular fasting and prayer in the Temple. (Luke 2:37.) These physical benefits are alluded to in Isaiah 58:8: “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall speedily arise,"
Now is a good time to prepare our hearts, put things in order, and clean out some filth that we have collected over this year. And how do we do it? Fasting, praying, and meditating on scripture. Confession, Sacraments and serving others. All this is how we get rid of the dirt in our lives. The Church has given us Advent as a reminder of the need to clean house. "A Little Lent can get rid of a lot of dirt."