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Posts Tagged ‘Islam’

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Well today is the first day of Ramadan, which is more or less the Islamic version of Lent.  It is a time of fasting, prayer, almsgiving, and spiritual renewal.

According to Muslim belief, Ramadan commemorates the first revelation of the Quran to the prophet Muhammad.  It leads up to a final period (more…)

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RamadanOur Muslim brothers and sisters completed Ramadan, a month-long period of fasting, yesterday.

From what I understand, this is a very strict fast.  Those observing may eat and drink before sunup and after sundown, but at no time in between.  And during this season of longer days, that must have been difficult indeed.

Such discipline and self-denial is vastly admirable, and is one of the traits in pious Muslims that my fellow Christians and I should be open to learning from.

The corresponding observance in Catholicism is, of course, Lent…as well as every Friday, which is designated as a special day of penance (contrary to popular belief, Vatican II did not do away with this — but that’s a subject for another post).

But why should anyone fast?  Isn’t there something puritanical and anti-body about it?  Doesn’t it betray a rather gloomy outlook on life overall?

Some have taken fasting too far, of course.  But a lot of good things have been abused and taken to excess.  Fasting is no more about the aforementioned things than football is about damaging your body and breaking your bones.

I’d like to present three of the main benefits of fasting (speaking from a Catholic perspective):

1. Gratitude. Depriving ourselves of bodily sustenance, as well as other things we have come rightly or wrongly to depend on, makes us aware of our total dependence on our Creator.  And when we look to our Creator with gratitude, we gain a greater appreciation of His goodness, benevolence, and care for us.

Further, gratitude is a safeguard against taking anything we have for granted.  We begin to see that absolutely everything is gift, and we learn to appreciate life as we never appreciated it before.

2. Freedom. Oddly enough, fasting confers freedom on us by making us less dependent on the things of the world for our happiness.  To appreciate the good things life has to offer is good in itself, but we can become too attached to them, and our attachments can take on the character of addiction (albeit usually a mitigated form of it).  Untethered by the bonds that weigh us down, we can walk through life with the lightness and freedom of movement that belongs to the saint.

Saint FrancisThe Franciscan lifestyle demonstrates this most beautifully.  It is no accident that both poverty and joy in creation are chief traits of this Order.

3. Penitence. Here we come to something harder to accept.  Nevertheless, we have to realize that in depriving ourselves of certain legitimate pleasures, we are making reparation for the wrong for which we are personally responsible.  And in Christ, we are able in this way also to make reparation for the sins of the rest of the Body of Christ and of the world.

We have all sinned.  God is infinitely good, loving, and faithful, and we have offended Him.  True, our sins do not affect Him in any way, as they would a creature.  He is God — infinitely perfect and happy in Himself.

But when we sin, we turn away from Him, treating the One Who is infinitely worthy as being not worthy.  And when we do that, we cause serious damage — both to ourselves as individuals and to the rest of the human family (we are all connected in and through God’s providence, after all).

So in that sense, fasting can be seen as a sort of “physical therapy” for recovery from the “injury” of sin.  By a process of painful “exercise,” we can overpower our dominating egos and grow in Christian charity.  And we can, in small ways, begin to repair the damage we have done.

And in that sense, fasting is also a sign of hope.  It’s depressing to think that ultimate reality is either bad or indifferent, and that we are the unfortunate band of helpless creatures lost in the middle of it.  But when we realize that Ultimate Reality is good and that we need to fall back into step with it (or, rather, Him), this changes everything.

I think it’s sad that the spirit of fasting has kind of subsided from the lifestyle of Christians in recent decades — especially since such witness is needed in what is often a culture of excess.  When we see how integral fasting and self-denial are to the devotion of Muslims, we should be inspired to revive our appreciation of this great gem of our tradition.

Image from Wikipedia

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