". . . in fastings often . . ." (Epistle for Sexagesima) In his second letter to the Church at Corinth the Apostle glories in his infirmities that God's grace and power in Christ may be his. One of his regular disciplines was that of fasting. Here the body is weakened to give more emphasis on the life of the soul. With Ash Wednesday drawing close we are reminded of the traditional disciplines of Lent of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
I am not good at fasting. I do not say this to prove my sinfulness nor to solicit a program that will help me become successful in fasting. Fasting, like prayer, almsgiving and any other disciplines encouraged in Scripture are good things. They are traditional practices, of a Tradition, and again, this is a good thing, for they lead us away from trusting in ourselves toward trusting in God. During Lent we prepare for the Lord's Resurrection. We strive to live more as we are called to live in Holy Baptism.
That I am not good at fasting does not mean that fasting is not a good discipline or that it is a breach of Christian freedom to even consider the practice. Should we sin more that grace may abound? Are we saved only when we are "chief of sinners"? Christian "freedom" today is often understood and lived out without Christ. Good is called bad and bad is called good. Indeed, that is how life is without Christ. Goodness and badness no longer are defined by divine revelation but by our imaginations and strivings without Christ. These can easily become the real "traditions of men" that Scripture warns us about, living how we want to live, on our own terms.
Jesus not only saves us on the cross, he leads us to the cross. This is so his goodness can have his way with us. If God can bring purification to flesh in the Incarnation of His Son can He not also purify the soul through the shedding of His blood? Lent reminds us to stop what we are doing without Christ and return to where He is there for us and our forgiveness. When we are in Christ and His forgiveness He leads us to all that is good. The good that we do in Christ is not us but Christ's doing. In Christ, disciplines, works, and Tradition are Good.
When Christian freedom becomes all about freedom then it is no longer good, because it becomes all about us and what we desire to do. Rather than follow our own paths let us return to the repentance of Lent and the life of being crucified with Christ, and living in the flesh by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us.
Lent is a good thing.
"O God, who seest that we put not our trust in any thing that we do . . ." (Collect for Sexagesima)