Today is the Feast Day of Saint John of the Cross. In researching more about him, I came across the quote above and felt it to be very applicable and timely to where I am spiritually in this Advent season. A few weeks ago, I mentioned the importance of fasting during Advent, and this is the first time in my life that I have actually tried putting this into practice specifically in preparation for Christmas. I had never thought about fasting during Advent before, and I really wanted to try and make it a priority this time around—to ready my heart so that I may more aptly appreciate the blessings of Christmas. I think Saint John of the Cross’ quote about purifying yourself of attachments speaks so perfectly to what I have been learning this Advent season.
One lesson I learn every time I fast, and which I am learning once again, is how very weak I am. Actively choosing to abstain from certain goods during Advent has shown me just how attached I am to these goods. There have been many times since I made the commitment to my fast that I have made excuses, been unable to refrain from partaking of the good, and even gone so far as to think to myself, God will understand. And in a way, he does! God understands that these goods are good (because he created them!) and that we have a desire for them (because that’s how he created us!). God created us to gravitate towards the good and share in the blessings that he gives to us and to the world. But God also calls us to prioritize Him above all good things, and fasting from minor indulgences this Advent has called to my attention my attachment to these goods, and shown me how the very littlest of my attachments can end up standing between me and God. My simple little promises I offer to God are broken simply because my appetite for them in that moment is greater than the promise I made to God. Now, God doesn’t look at me, weak and hungry, and abandon me because I have abandoned my fast. Fasting isn’t so much about winning merits for myself, but rather about mortifying my passions. The fact that I cannot stay firm to my commitment to say no to certain goods as an offering to God, shows me how I am in need of both his mercy and that I need to evaluate how my appetite for certain goods can at times control me. When we fast from things that are good, or refrain from partaking of things we know are particularly harmful to us, we do so in an effort to realign our priorities. Through continued practice of fasting, I am learning that my flesh and self-control are wild, and need to be ordered properly. Fasting is a reminder that though all of the sweets, treats, and indulgences may be good, they are merely a small fraction of the Good of God and the fulfillment that we ultimately receive in him alone. Ordering my passions properly allows me to be more open and free spiritually, and prepares me for the times that I am tempted in bigger and more sinful ways.
Something new that I am also learning by fasting this Advent is the connection between fasting and longing. (I see now why the Church calls us to fast during Advent.) While I long for Christmas to come so that I can partake in the goods that I gave up, this fast is teaching me what the Advent season is really all about: having longing in our hearts for the Lord. During these five or so weeks until Christmas, fasting is moving me to develop within my heart a sense of longing that can only be truly fulfilled by the Summum Bonum (or, “Ultimate Good”), God himself. Much like the longing I remember as a kid, so very excited to open presents on Christmas morning, I am beginning to realize what true longing during the Christmas season is all about. Yes, I long for those goods that I have actively chosen to give up this Advent, but in giving up these goods I am reminded first and foremost of the Good of Christ’s love—the good that came with his entering into the world, humbly and free of all worldly attachments, in the manger in Bethlehem. Fasting is teaching me what it means to see the goods of the world “spiritually” and to “understand what is certain in them.” Abusing them, and consistently indulging in them to the point of enslavement is not why God created them or us. He created the goods for us to share in them, but more importantly to point us to his own sweetness–to him who is the Supreme Good itself.
How is your fast going this Advent? Comment below!