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Food and mercy

Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Annunciation, bringing to our attention the great condescension of God in taking on human flesh to do for us what we were, and are, unable to do for ourselves.  This event is so singularly important in the plan of salvation the Church celebrates it not only as a feast but a Solemnity – the highest level of celebration the Church has.  But more on that in a second.

Some of you may well remember the “It started here.  Let it end here” announcement by the Dallas-area bloggers some now four years ago.  The three bloggers announced that for the next eleven months they would fast and pray before the Blessed Sacrament for an end to abortion and invited others to join in whatever way they could.  Many of us virtually signed on the dotted line to offer prayer and fasting in solidarity with their efforts, yours truly included.  Only, I apparently can’t read – I didn’t get the “First” part of “First Fridays” and so I began fasting on every Friday; some of you already know this, many do not, but I do not mention it here as a source of pride but only on observation of a fact.  Yes Virginia, fasting once a week is not nearly as hard as it sounds.

In the utterly unique way in which God writes straight with the crooked lines of our lives these two facts collided for me today.  You see, as a Solemnity, the Annunciation changes the rules somewhat in that the Church is explicitly asking us to celebrate, to rejoice and as such:

Can.  1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Further checking also led me to confirm this also includes other forms of mortification or penance – we are allowed, I might even suggest asked, but not obligated to put them to the side for one day and rejoice in the benevolence of God’s plan of salvation.

Well this just proved a conundrum for me – to continue to fast as has been my practice for now four years, or to allow the Church’s suggestion to win out.  The thought of eating normal meals on a Friday just seemed completely foreign to me – I had come to find a certain identity between myself and my fasting.  Fasting is, after all, done both as a way to train the body – the “flesh” in St. Paul’s parlance – to obey the spirit and as a form of penance for past sins.  From a very young age I learned to always look at every situation where something went wrong to see if there was something I did wrong or even just inefficiently that caused or at least helped lead to the eventual outcome.  It’s both very American and quite laudable in many ways – you take responsibility for your own actions and allow others to do so for themselves.  Yet this too can be taken too far and corrupted.

In taking my first bite this morning and contemplating my initial discomfort at it I realized something far deeper.  I had become comfortable with being the one who screws up, the one who is in constant need of God’s mercy, the one who honestly isn’t surprised when he falls into sin again and again.  I was more comfortable being a messed up sinner reaching up to Heaven while looking down to the earth, too ashamed to look into the eyes of Mercy and accept that yes He really does love me that much.  I would rather be a nearly lost cause at the edge of hope than recognize that the only thing in which we can truly hope has already done what is necessary and all I needed to do was ask for its application.

When I took that first bite of Cheerios this morning something somewhere inside me realized that I had been living for penance in the expectation that I would fail and fall again rather than falling gently into the arms of  Mercy and Grace and trusting that God truly can transform this wretched soul.  Just as the celebratory nature of a Solemnity takes precedence over the penitential acts even of Lent, “mercy triumphs over judgement” (Jm 2:13).  If you are as I was, stuck in the sure belief that failure is inevitable, I invite you to take a bite of the Cheerios and truly let God’s Mercy flow in your life; His Grace is not far behind and that Grace is the one thing that can keep us from falling again and again.  Cling not to the failures of the past and the seemingly comfortable position of awaited failure but to the foot of the Cross where He showed us how much He loves us and look to the open door of His grave where He proved that there is nothing beyond His power to redeem.  Even me, even you.  “[T]hough your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Is 1:18)

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Owen March 26, 2011, 1:11 pm

    Gotta say, essentially I just charged into the cheese cake and happily ate chicken yesterday and even had another coffee. I did this without half a thought as soon as I realized it was a feast day. Thursday I had fish but it had nothing to do with planning on not having it on Friday, it’s just what DD2 made for us.

    Thank God for Can 1251. 😉

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