Advent: A Little Lent
Advent is a good time to fast voluntarily in preparation to celebrate the greatest birthday of the year, that of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The early Christians observed more than one fast in the year. Both the east and the west observe the fast of Lent before Easter. Fasting during Advent has been reduced in the west, whereas it retains its ancient vigor in the east.
Advent consists of up to four weeks prior to Christmas, beginning four Sundays before Christmas. This year (2016) Advent is four complete weeks. Five fast days are still of obligation. First the Vigil of the Immaculate Conception (December 7) is a day of fast and partial abstinence. The third week of Advent is the Ember week with the customary fasting on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday with partial abstinence on the Wednesday and Saturday and the customary complete abstinence on Fridays. Finally the Vigil of Christmas (December 24) is a day of fast and complete abstinence.
“The holy Fathers teach that our first combat should be with the vice of gluttony, which is called gastrimargia by the Greeks. For in vain do we rise up against the others until this is eliminated, which supplies nutriment to the rest.” 1 This is why we fast. The church requires certain fasts, but we should exceed the weak laws of today on occasion.
In fact, many teach that we cannot overcome lust until we first overcome gluttony.
Let us consider, that the first sin was a sin of gluttony, eating the forbidden fruit.
And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold: and she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband who did eat. (Genesis 3:6)
The rule is simple, we should eat to live, not live to eat.
And yet how much are we told the opposite today by the world? Saint Ambrose says: “Fasting is a good sauce for meat.” By abstaining, when we do finally come to the feast, we enjoy the meal much more. Consider the person, who eats ice cream daily. Soon he finds that ice cream doesn't mean much to him. However, take it away for a month, he will relish his first bowl upon return.
To whom he said: Can you make the children of the bridegroom fast, whilst the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, then shall they fast in those days. (Luke 5:34-5)
If we read the Scriptures, fasting was a common part of life for the Chosen People of both testaments. The Apostles were chided for not fasting, and we read Jesus' response above. On the feast of the Ascension the Bridegroom left and we returned to fasting.
In the book Our Own Will: And How to Detect It In Our Actions we read (pages 124-5): “The great want of the world at the present day is penance; the vast mass of humanity is engrossed with the pursuit of honors, riches, and pleasures; there is no thought of mortification, no feeling of compassion for the sufferings of our Divine Lord. His Sacred Heart hungers and thirsts after some kindred spirit in which to find sympathy and gratitude, and active, ardent compassion with Its yearnings and longings; but It is very often disappointed.”
Jesus wants us to do penance. He sent His mother ninety-nine years ago to ask for two things: prayer and penance.
Advent is a good time to bring Jesus these two presents He so earnestly desires of us for our own salvation and that of the whole world.
Let us make this Advent where we bring our hearts closer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
1 A Treatise of Spiritual Life, page 87