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As we approach the end of our first week in Lent, remind yourself that your accomplishments as well as your failures are behind you. If you are fasting, and your prayer and giving cycles have increased, then these are accomplishments which should encourage you to continue and be even stronger in the weeks to come. If you have strayed from your goals, then regard this time as a catalyst for change. Challenge yourself to re-focus and be determined to take on the next few weeks with optimism.
Today we will talk about intense fasting, that is, fasting beyond food. In scripture we read a passage from the Gospel of St. Luke which says, “Jesus called the crowd to Him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’”
The message here is a strong one. So many times, and especially during the Lenten period, we are consumed with all of the laws and the regulations of life, the dos and don’ts of life. Do abstain from meat. Don’t drink milk. etc. We spend time asking the wrong questions: Do we abstain from this type of meat? Or that type of food? Rather than the rules and regulations, we should investigate the reasons for those rules. That is, we should be navigating ourselves to the true true intention of the Lenten period.
Lent, as we have learned, is a time to simplify, to bring it down to the bare basics, to find out what is necessary to live. We abstain from certain foods – meat and animal products – to help us simplify. Today we will crank it up a notch as we start to abstain from the bigger foods. We will focus on the things that defile us, or as Jesus says, “… not what goes into our system but what goes out of our system.”
What are those things that come out of our system and are they defiling us? Are there words, are there emotions that are destroying us, that are literally killing us and the people around us? I am talking about those expressions of anger, those expressions of hatred. How about discouragement and discontent? These are all emotions that tear us apart. They rip apart the relationships from people that we love. They defile us. They pollute our systems and our lives. They prevent us from becoming all that we can and should be.
As we know, the words that we speak can destroy us. There is an expression among Armenians that the wound created by a sword will heal, but the wound caused by the tongue never heals.
Think about the words that you have used in haste, perhaps in anger. Think about those expressions that have divided you from friends, or perhaps from family. Some words have even destroyed others, Willingly or maybe unwillingly, those small words have come out of your mouth and you have hurt others. Unfortunately, more often than not, you end up hurting the ones you love most. Perhaps it’s because we think that those who love us will tolerance us, put up with us. Whatever the case or the reason, when we hurt others, we destroy relationships and in so doing, we destroy our relationship with God.
In fact in the Gospel of Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus specifically makes this point, “You have heard that you shall not murder, but I tell you if you have anger toward your brother you are guilty of that murder!” That’s it! Christ tells us in no uncertain terms that there is no place in the life of a Christian for anger, for hatred, for divisive conversations, and even the thoughts that are the basis for those actions.
Now, when you rid yourself of the evil thoughts which lead to the evil actions, you must replace them with the only thought powerful enough to keep those thoughts away. That power comes from love. Love is the one ingredient of life that can overcome those thoughts and words that divide and devastate us.
Without love, what meaning or what purpose can our existence have? Love is the necessary component of life. While it is a natural element of our existence, that is, it exists in us all, nevertheless, it needs to be cultivated and nurtured. During this Lenten period we have a golden opportunity to do exactly that. By cultivating and nurturing the feelings of love in our life, we build the necessary habit to overcome the difficulties of life beyond this period of Lent. While abstinence and restrictions are one part of the Lenten journey, the greater task for the believer is to exercise love and to be in harmony family, friends, with nature, with surroundings, the world and ultimately, all of the universe, namely God.
Let us pray:
All provident Lord place your holy fear as a guard before my eyes, so they may not look lustfully, before my ears so they may not delight in hearing evil words, before my mouth so it may not speak any falsehoods, before my heart so that it may not think evil, before my hands so that they may not do injustice, before my feet that they may not walk in the paths of injustice. But so direct them that they may always be according to all your commandments. Have mercy upon your creatures and upon me a great sinner. Amen. (St. Nersess Shnorhali’s Havadov Khosdovanim 9/24)
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