The second week of Advent, we see our readings concentrating on John the Baptist, who wore wild fur, ate honey and locusts…
I was once in a fourth grade, and one bright girl was asking some pretty deep questions, way beyond, I conceive of a typical fourth grader’s critical thinking skills. While most kids were asking about “Are you allowed to have pets? Are you allowed to play sports?”… This girl asked “If you are supposed to care about all God’s creature, why aren’t more priests vegetarians?”
I thought WOW!!!! Yeah why not?
There was a time when Religious, those monks and nuns dedicated to prayer… were also dedicated to fasting. They saw meat as a luxury they were not worthy to consume. In an ascetic spirit of sacrifice, like Christ who carried the cross, the pleasure of meat was something to be given up. The spirit of fasting and abstinence carried over onto lay catholics as well. They wanted to make the extra move to fast a little bit more.
When we, as Catholics, talk about fasting… well we talk about eating one meal, and two snacks that do not measure up to a meal, and abstaining from meat only two days a year. How lame, I wonder, when I compare ourselves to devout Hindus, Muslims, and Native Americans who engage in much more rigorous fasting. Of course, our context for fasting is a bare minimum that is required, which is made to be as inclusive as possible to the weakest imaginable. But, when we promote that to our kids, we make fasting lame! Advent even used to be a time of some fasting, which we have somewhat forgotten. Yet sometimes i think letting go of our garbage, or petty things can help us prepare the way for the coming King.
John the Baptist certainly stands in contrast to this, particularly the shallow legalism of the Pharisees, who he proclaims a brood of vipers.
What if we asked them to be creative, and find more things to fast from? I do not think that God is going to send us to hell for failing to fast perfectly. Yet, what about the benefits of fasting?
Essentially Fasting and abstinence are about freeing ourselves from out attachments, so that we can be filled with the grace and holiness which are of God. We might have more time to pray if we spent less time with addictive facebook or television. We might have more willpower to eat healthy if we were hungry from eating less junk food.
But even thinking about how lame we as Catholics have become with fasting, I wonder how this relates to obesity? It is worth asking? I mean, obesity is one of our scandalous problems in our nation, which side by side, exists in a world where children die of starvation. I think people have good reason to ask the question, is our unwillingness to fasting contributing to our problem with obesity?
Certainly, lack of knowledge and access to nutrition could be a problem. Poverty could also be a problem, seeing as how McDonalds is cheaper then a healthy restaurant. Lack of time to exercise as well. But, think in yourself how much of letting go is a priority?
I am not a vegetarian, but i do ask myself that frequently.
There are some, who want to legislate nutritional food, and impose the discipline of good eating by externals. For instance removing toys from happy meals, and limiting the diet at public schools. These are all good, but wisdom teaches us that a system of good nutrition imposed externally will not actually teach us the inner will power and discipline to make a good choice of what we eat. Fasting is the one thing that will. I think that some vegetarians, and vegans, whether concerned over animals, or their own lack of will power ask this question for purely secular reasons. What about us, as a physiological spiritual inner union… our bodily discipline will effect our spiritual discipline.
John the Baptist is a sign of this.