Chasing the Spirit: A Letter to the Catholic Exchange Community #1

“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

This Lent I am fasting for forty days.  Or praying to, as I need the Lord’s help in the modest effort I’m making.  My fast is one of those modified Catholic fasts that’s not as bad as it sounds.  I haven’t committed myself to living on bread and water or a monkish soup of radishes and leeks.  I’m cutting out all sweets and starches and trimming my calories to about 1500 per day.

This discipline was prompted by recent medical tests in which my blood sugar climbed out of the normal range.  Even more, I have to admit, because my new Georgia Drivers License picture bears a disturbing resemblance to Jabba the Hut.

I remember a priest giving a homily in which he warned against using Lent as an excuse to diet.  This was vanity.  Not nearly spiritual enough.  We should give up something that freed us to be greater servants to others, not use Lent to acquire a more acceptable image in the mirror.

No doubt vanity plays a role in my commitment to eating modest meals, but it’s characteristic of everything in the Christian life that our mere humanity and its suspect motives is elevated by offering them to God.  My vanity and health concerns are leading me to take advantage of the season the Lord provides for correcting bad habits.  He’s turning me toward taking care of my body and so honoring the life he’s given me.  I cannot be of use if I’m not healthy.

I feel God saying to me, “You are scared by the high blood sugar.  You are unhappy with the way you look.  Good.  Wake up, idiot! I’ve given you talents and prodded, poked, and waited — how I’ve waited!  Now when you might be of use, are you going to let yourself be taken out by the Devil through your gluttony?  Do you know how angry that makes me?  Take Lent to diet.  Be my guest.  You’ll be around on the earth a little longer for a few things I’ve planned.  And just wait until you see what’s up my sleeve!”

One of the things I already see is how difficult exerting a modicum of self-control can be.   Just to eat the one portion and not go back for seconds while the satiety monster screams: More food! More food!  Or to realize that the reason I’m about to kick the dog across the living room is because I feel deprived and am way cranky.  These things are tough and praying is certainly not the first remedy that comes to mind.  St. Paul writes: I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Cor 9:27).  I’m not up to beating my body so much as giving it a stern talking to, but I like to think at the moments when I’m in far from a pious mood I’m still pleasing God.  Christ understands our unholy attempts at holiness. 

There’s a point to beating your body and it is, after all, to be free for service.  In the quiet moments between the hunger storms, I thank God that he’s gotten my attention by all means available, because I’d like to put my talents to maximum use for the next 15 years or so and see, under the Lord’s direction, what happens.

Catholic Exchange came along as a very happy surprise.  Together we have a chance to do something beautiful for God through the new evangelization and I’d like to play my part.  This Lent is a preparation for what I hope will be a long run — and a more direct line to resurrection.

I’ll be writing about once a week to the Catholic Exchange community, sharing my thoughts, updating you on interesting developments at CE.

I’d love to hear from you, particularly right now as to what you are doing for Lent.  I’ll feature some of the more unusual Lenten observances that you share with me in next week’s letter.  Write to

The Lord be with you,

Harold Fickett — President, Catholic Exchange

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