Now we are fasting.* Now we are simplifying our lives. Now we give to those in need what we save by fasting and simplifying our lives.
Now we examine our consciences in peace. Now we confess and repent of our own sins. Now we are reconciled with God and with the Church. Now we do penance.
Now we remove distractions and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Now we strip away what does not matter and give ourselves over to the one thing that does.
Now is the time.
Now we pray. Now we try to learn what it means to pray unceasingly. Now we spend less time watching television and more time reading scripture. Now we come more often to the church to pray and worship God.
Because now our lives are demanded of us.
God will say to those unprepared to stand in his glory, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you.” (Luke 12:20). It does not do to make preparations for this passing life while neglecting to prepare for the everlasting life that is to come. Pope Benedict XVI observes, “This life is not everything. There is an eternity. Today it is very unmodern to say this, even in theology.” But it remains true, and the weight of the eternal is infinitely greater than the weight of all the years of our earthly life.
How can we prepare for that limitless life and the unfathomable glory of God? He has made the way simple for us. He is the way.
The Philip’s Fast, which we have now begun in preparation for the Nativity of Jesus Christ, is a season of preparation for the coming of the Lord into the world. The Lord is coming into the world.
One morning, we will wake up and it will feel like Christmas morning when we were children, because the Lord will have come into the world. Anyway, that’s how it will feel if we have prepared for him. Either way, that day is coming.
This Philip’s Fast is another chance to prepare. I had the opportunity this week to meet up online with several of my old seminary chums. It was a group video chat, so I could see all of them as well as talk to them, even though we were all over the country. Such technological marvels we live among these days. Real life is like an episode of Star Trek. Anyway, unlike the rest of them, I didn’t have a camera, so they couldn’t see me like I could see them. All they could see of me was a photo taken a few years ago. So, I pointed out that I’d gained about 20 lbs. since that photo had been taken. Fr. Lewis chided me, “That doesn’t sound very ascetical, John.” And so I affably retorted, “Well, it’s a good thing we’re starting the Philip’s Fast now. Thank God there’s always another chance to repent.”
“Yeah,” said Fr. Dcn. Tom, “until there’s not.”
There won’t, in fact, always be more time. “The great day of the Lord is near – near and hastening fast” (Zeph 1:14). This Philip’s Fast is another opportunity to prepare and repent. Let’s not squander this chance. How many more will there be? What we do as a Church in these fasting seasons teaches us how to live our lives in preparation for the last things and the everlasting things.
Here’s the thing: the day is coming when we will stand in the glory of the Lord. This is true whether or not we prepare for that glorious day. If we do not prepare (by living the life of God and cooperating with his grace) our experience of that glory will be painful – like staring straight into the sun. But, if we first allow ourselves to be transfigured, little by little, by God’s own energies, then we will truly live this life he is giving us, and, on that day, we will be the glory of God.
“The glory of God is man truly alive,” as St. Irenaeus says. Jesus says to his Father, “I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one” (John 17:22). You see, this glory of God makes us one with one another just as God, who is three Persons, is one.
What unifies us is the same as what unifies God: love. God is love (1 John 4:8). So, the way to prepare to stand in the glory of God, the way to become the glory of God, to become one as the Persons of God are one, is to love one another. This is the simple way.
We all want to be loved, and that’s as it should be, I believe. Even God wants to be loved. And he made all of us lovable. All of us. You are lovable and God loves you. Love one another as he loves you (John 13:34). Then you will be prepared to stand in his glory and receive his love not as a searing fire but as a transfiguring light.
*Author’s note: For Byzantine Catholics, The Philip’s Fast or Nativity Fast in preparation for Christmas begins on November 15th, the day after the feast of St. Philip.