Fasting 101

As we begin the season of Lent there can be a lot of chatter about fasting, and we want to guard our hearts against missing the point entirely. It’s good to give up the things in our lives to which we tend to become attached. It’s not a bad thing that we give up social media, television, desserts, shopping, etc. We can all agree that in the course of a year we have probably packed a great deal of *stuff* into our lives that needs cleaned out. But if we mentally check a “fasting” box and move on, then we are going to miss the point of our fasting — to miss God’s idea of fasting — this Lent.

The point of fasting and prayer is to be able to hear God’s voice and do his will. It is good to fast from things that we are attached to so that we will be attached to God instead. It is also good to fast from things that take our time so that we have more time to spend with God. But it can be easy to get caught up in the spiritual practice of fasting and miss the point of it, which is to hear God’s voice…AND then do His will. What is God’s will? What kind of direction should we look for from Him when we fast? What is He going to say to us?

One of the readings in the Liturgy of The Hours for Ash Wednesday is from Isaiah 58. In this passage, God pretty explicitly lays out what His idea of fasting is and what kind of result it should have in our lives. Look at verses 6-7:

“This rather is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking free every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”

Pretty clear, right? But let’s break it down a step further. If we are fasting with ears listening and hands ready for the Lord’s work, then we are going to personally hear God tell us: Continue reading “Fasting 101”

Enduring to Perfection

I was recently having a conversation with my six-year-old son about sin. We were reading the Gospel account when Jesus called the Apostle Matthew from his life as a tax collector to follow him. Upon hearing the Pharisees’ murmuring against him associating with sinners, Jesus responded:

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:12-13)

As we were discussing the passage, my son said,  “But we aren’t supposed to hang out with sinners.” I responded, “Well, Jesus’ point was that we are all sinners in need of God’s mercy.” My thoughtful and emotive young son was visibly disturbed by this. “I’m not a sinner!” he exclaimed with a furrowed brown and tight lips. “Yes you are,” I said. “We all are. We are all sinners, and our sin has separated us from God. That is why Jesus came — to restore us to the Father by his grace. We are sinners who have been saved by God’s grace, but we have to actually acknowledge what we are without him.”

My son’s displeasure at the thought of identifying himself as a sinner is typical of our human condition, especially in the modern world. You and I struggle with the same thing. We don’t like thinking of ourselves as “sinners” or our sins as, well, sins — do we? We want to think of them as “challenges,” “less than ideal” traits, or “shortcomings.” Sin seems so…evil. Exactly. It is.

Being selfish or angry, lying, being puffed up with pride, gossiping about others, always wanting more — these things are evil. And our lives are actually inundated with them in many daily ways — great or small. But one reason that we don’t want to name them as they are is that we would then have to acknowledge that our temptation toward them is always present; and in many Christian environments we aren’t comfortable with that being the case.

We are more comfortable with the idea that Christ saving us from sin is in the past…all done. We want to live in a present Christian life that is all positive and all about our goodness in Christ. Therefore, there is a tendency to think of sinful struggles as something that we can overcome for good and be done with, moving from the “sinners” group to the “non-sinners” group.

If we are honest, we know that this isn’t theologically correct. We know that through the salvation and sanctification processes we are not removed from this fallen world or immune to sinful tendencies (that’s in heaven); but we don’t like being reminded that our sin, when committed, is still sin. We, like the Pharisees, want to call the tax collectors wrong behavior “sin,” but not our own.

Offering an alternative perspective, is wisdom from St. Francis de Sales:

“The discipline of purification can and must cease only with our life, therefore be not discouraged by infirmities; our perfection consists in struggling against them, which we cannot do unless we perceive them, neither can we conquer unless we come into collison with them. Victory does not lie in ignoring our infirmities, but in resisting them” (An Introduction to the Devout Life, Pt. 1, Ch. 5).

One reason that we are attracted to the “us” and “them” mindset is that it separates us from evil; and when we are separated from evil we don’t have to think about our own sin as sin. St. Francis highlights the danger in separating ourselves from our “infirmities” — we can’t move toward goodness, toward perfection, if we do so. We have to name that evil in us for what it is, and every time it rears its ugly head we have to call it ugly. If we don’t, we will forget it is there and never conquer it.

As we move toward heaven, we all have the potential for incredible goodness, but we will never realize it without persevering against our potential for terrible evil. In the words of Flannery O’Conner, we need to understand that “evil is not simply a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be endured.”¹ We must endure until perfected.


¹ O’Conner, Flannery. Mystery and Manners (1970). Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York: NY, p.209.

 

Copyright 2017 Jessica Ptomey

Is Your Social Media Persona Making You Less Human?

If we are all being honest, we are overwhelmed with information. We are overwhelmed in our inboxes, newsfeeds, and timelines. There is more content there than we even come close to having time to read, and (frankly) most of it isn’t worth our time. That doesn’t mean it’s all “bad.” But it does mean that very little of it ranks with the important things in our individual lives that deserve priority, and it does mean that much of it is not making us more whole human beings. Given the environment of social media overload, I think Catholic communities need to consider how we are contributing to it.

I say this as a blogger and aspiring book author who utilizes social media to share my writing. Writers and speakers like myself feel a lot of pressure (from publishers, ourselves, others) to promote our writing, and by extension ourselves, through social media. It’s the publicist of the 21st century. While it is necessary for us to use it, I’m concerned with the typical use I see. I fear that a significant amount of the content I read, often by highly-followed Catholics and Christians, is contributing to the excess social media “noise.” I call it noise because, while the more substantive writing and speaking of these individuals is highly edifying, the social media content often presents a different persona.

Continue reading “Is Your Social Media Persona Making You Less Human?”