** Let no one flatter himself that he is exempt from fasting & penance **
As we approach the Solemn and Universal Season of Penance, the Church calls us all, in the Name of the Redeemer, to do penance and to fast. In all ages since creation, “Do Penance” was the great theme of the servants of God. Even before the deluge (when all flesh had corrupted), Noah exhorted mankind to do penance; Moses inculcated the same important duty to the children of Israel; John the Baptist made the banks of the Jordan and the deserts of Judea resound with the precept of doing penance; and it was with this precept that Our Divine Redeemer began His public preaching.
The Church guarantees us that God will hear those who, with compunction of heart, invoke His mercy. Let us be mindful, then, that this Holy Season of Lent should help us achieve the purification of our souls for the worthy celebration of the greatest of all Christian Festivals – the Glorious Resurrection of Our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ.
The principal object of the Lenten Fast is the destruction of sin and the purification of the heart. To fast on other days may be a remedy, an atonement, and a preventative of sin, but not to fast in Lent would be a crime, which would deserve the severest punishment. While diminishing the consumption of temporal foods, may we even more so abstain from the iniquities of the world and from carnal desires that bring destruction to the soul. In this manner, the flesh will be obedient unto the soul and the soul unto grace.
The Church compels us to atone for our former negligences, to repair the consequences of our past sins, to crucify our flesh with all its vices and concupiscences, and, in that mortified and guilty flesh, to fill up those things which are wanting of the Passion of Christ. Let us, then, rend our hearts and not just our garments in profound compunction, humbling ourselves before the throne of forgiveness. The fast the Lord has chosen and which alone will be acceptable to Him is “to loose the bands of wickedness.”
Fasting is the best guardian of the soul, the secure companion of the body, and the armor and support of the strong in the struggle for salvation. May we redouble our fervor and supplications this Lent with holy retirement, self-examination, and true compunction in order to obtain the pardon of the Gracious God.
This is the great and perfect Fast that will find favor in Heaven, heal all disease, banish all demons, expel evil thoughts, and create a clean heart. Fasting in the right spirit of the Church (with deep sorrow for our sins) will make pride cede place to humility, do away with greed, and inspire in us charity to all instead of anger, hatred, or revenge towards any. Should this be neglected, God will then ask us, “Is this the fast which I have chosen?” Let us then profess a solemn renunciation of sin, avoid its dangerous occasions, and repair its destructive effects.
It would be a grave mistake to suppose that by the mere exterior act of fasting alone we fulfill our obligations to Almighty God or really practice the solemn observance of this holy season. We must remember that the Jews fasted according to the letter of the Law, yet God reproached them, through His prophets, because in the day of their fasts their own will was found.
Let us fast, therefore, because we have sinned; let us fast, even more, so that we may not sin again; let us fast so that our petitions may be heard before the throne of mercy. Let us no longer sleep in the arms of perdition; let us no longer remain in the deplorable state of sin; let us tear asunder all attachments to sin; let us remove all criminal habits and detestable vices that are a scandal to religion, a disgrace to the Church, and a reproach to Christianity.
The great and general fast of every Christian is to fast from sin, from drunkenness, from thievery, from cursing, swearing and blaspheming, from pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, sloth, slander, and detraction. This fast admits of no dispensation and is absolutely necessary at all times, in all places, and for all persons.
The Church, always solicitous for the salvation of Her children, incessantly exhorts sinners to true repentance and sincere penance. It was the full conviction of the indispensable necessity of penance that peopled the deserts with crowds of austere recluses and religious hermits in the primitive ages of Christianity. Penance has always been considered the only means to effect a reconciliation with the offended Deity, the only gate by which to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
May we unite our fasts and penances with the forty days of fast of Our Blessed Savior, and let us lament all the sins and offences of our lives in the bitterness of our souls. Let us confess our sins, and may our confession be simple, humble, plain, true, faithful, full, entire, and accompanied with an inward grief of the heart, a hatred of sin, and a firm purpose of amendment, which is the very soul and essence of repentance.