church filled with people

Fasting From Church this Year

 March 2, 2021

Lent is a time for prayer, fasting and almsgiving. This past Sunday, the priest at my church, where I attended via video, preached about fasting. It occurred to me after he spoke, that maybe the fast I was called to this Lent, this whole year, was fasting from church.

Why Fast?

When fasting, you give up something good for a greater good, or a higher purpose. It can help you experience a greater reality than your everyday life. Food is good. It is necessary for life and is a source of pleasure. But too much of it, particularly those that are so enticing yet less than healthy, can lead to obesity and a multitude of health issues. Wine is good, especially while hunkering at home during the pandemic. But too much can lead to health problems as well.

Attending church services is good. We gather with others that share common beliefs. We praise our God, learn about God through hearing God’s word in Scripture and listening to sermons, and we grow in our faith. As good and vital to our faith as church is, it isn’t God. Rather it is a means to God.

Our Fallible Church

Church is comprised of fallible people with many divergent ideas. In light of this it’s amazing we are able to agree on anything. Throughout the centuries there have been disagreements and division. There have also been serious errors on the part of church leadership. At times it can seem like Church is more a barrier to God. The sexual abuse crisis in my own church has caused much damage, leading many to leave the Catholic church.

I have had my own struggles with my church, and yet I remain. As Peter tells Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have words of everlasting life.” Where do I go? There is no perfect church, synagogue or mosque in this world.

Pope Francis, speaking about the importance of education, said, “Education can’t be neutral. It is either positive or negative; either it enriches or it impoverishes; either it enables a person to grow or it lessens, even corrupts him. The mission of schools is to develop a sense of truth, of what is good and beautiful. And this occurs through a rich path made up of many ingredients.” The same can be said about church. We have seen over the years that it can be positive or negative.

Fasting from Church

While I have missed attending Sunday services, it hasn’t been as hard as I had expected. At times I have felt guilty about my lack of guilt over not attending. How Catholic is that?! I see and hear others in the Sunday service who are taking the chance and attending. Surely they are better Catholics than I am, I think. Then I’d reassess why I remain home. The original reasons remain unchanged so I continue to stay home.

Throughout this time I have felt that God is doing something, I just wasn’t sure what. The thought that I was fasting from church helped put it all in perspective.

A Year Long Lent

Lent is a time for going into the wilderness and facing temptations. This time of the pandemic has been like a year-long Lent. I have attended services virtually. While there are some advantages, such as I don’t have to get dressed up or leave the comfort of my own home, overall I don’t like the experience. It’s simply not the same as gathering with other people, singing hymns and praying together. I have found myself being an observer more than a participant.

Without being able to receive communion, the message provided by the minister each week has become more central to the experience. Where a less than inspiring message is compensated for by being in a sacred space with other believers and receiving communion, there is no such compensation during virtual services.

I have found myself questioning many aspects of church and church services. Why attend? I was like so many people in the US who no longer attend the church of their youth; who maybe play golf on Sundays or use the day to catch up on housework that wasn’t done during the work week, or simply sleeping in. I wondered, was God calling me to another church? Or maybe to no church. I can still be a good person even if I didn’t go to church. I even questioned belief in God.

But now I see this time as a fast, a time of being tempted, a time of questioning long held beliefs, and reaffirming them.

Taking a Break Can  Be Helpful

It can be good to take a break at times, to look at our life from a different perspective. This self-imposed exile has done that for me. Some of the early Hebrews were carried away to Babylon, others remained in Jerusalem. When they returned, they exclaimed, “we were like men dreaming. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with rejoicing,” Psalm 126 tells us.

I expect that when I come back, it will be with a renewed appreciation.

Are you fasting this Lent? How have you handled the challenges of attending church services during a pandemic? I would love to hear from you!

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