A Lesson in Humility

I’d been cruising along pretty well on my full Lenten fast.  Just a bit less than 2 full meals a day, no snacks, no sweets, except for Sundays and the Feast of St. Joseph on March 19.  I’m one of those people who sets high standards for himself (and everyone else) and expects to meet them.

And then it happened.  I was absolutely ravenous.  I wanted to eat anything and everything in sight — and did.  So I went to confession.

“When I was young,” the priest said, “I dreaded turning 21, because in those days everyone over 21 had to fast for all of Lent.  I didn’t know if I could do it.  Then I went on a trip, and when I returned, the every-day-of-Lent fasting requirement had been eliminated.

“I admire your intention,” he went on, “and I’ll pray for you.  But you should feel remorse,” he said.  “You committed to fast for all of Lent as a spiritual exercise, and you broke the fast.  If you’re a serious Catholic this should bother you.

“But don’t let it get you down.  God has detected your pride and has humbled you.  God used that instance of gluttony to scourge you so you will learn humility.  You’re not Superman.  You’re offering up your desires for food to join in the sufferings of Christ on the cross.   One of the things you learn from fasting everyday is that fasting is a real cross.  And just as Jesus stumbled on his way to Calvary, you will stumble too.

“Were you one of those whom Jesus is discussing in Luke 18:9-14?  One of those who are ‘convinced of their own righteousness and (who) despise everyone else’?

“How convinced are you now of your own righteousness?  Do you recognize your weakness?  Do you have more compassion for those whom stumble in their lives?

“By making you so hungry that you broke your fast, Jesus is teaching you to be like the tax collector who stands ‘off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner’,” he concluded.

I’d prefer not to break the fast again this Lent.  But, I know now I can’t make it through on my own.  Because God gives us free will, I know — even though I hate to admit it — that with three weeks left in Lent, there’s a good chance I will stumble again.

Who would have ever thought that by breaking a fast I would have had my weakness held up to me?  It’s like scourging my pride, which is why if I stumble again I’ll go to confession.  It’s where I can admit my weakness and be forgiven.

About Joel Whitaker

Joel Whitaker is a long-time professional journalist (Tampa Bay Times, Wall Street Journal, Philadelphia Bulletin, Institutional Investor, executive newsletters) and Catholic convert. He is the RCIA coordinator for his parish.
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