So, a little over a month ago, someone reached out to me. They were just leaving a doctor’s appointment and were therefore in the area, so he was wondering if I would like to meet up for an early lunch and to play catch up. This was during Great Lent, so I couldn’t really partake of the feasting, but the conversation and company seemed more than appealing, so I was more than happy to oblige.
We met up and discussed a variety of things, from science and politics to family life to philosophy; among a myriad of other topics as well. At one point I mentioned that it was Great Lent and how proud I was of my son, who for the first time was keeping the fast, and doing a great job of it. So that began a conversation about the rules of fasting in general, what was and wasn’t allowed, exceptions, etc. I pointed out that my wife, for health reasons, had received the blessing of the Church to keep a slightly altered form of the fast. And apparently, that statement struck a cord with him. Not because she was keeping a different fast than my son and I were, but it was the statement that she had received the blessing of the Church. It began a monologue about how the Church shouldn’t have that much power over our lives and how we shouldn’t have to obtain permission from the Church, and who is this one person that he should be allowed to determine if we keep the traditional fast and so on. And he looked dead at me and said, “the Church shouldn’t be allowed to tell someone what they can and can’t eat. If this one priest can change the tradition, then what does that say about the traditions themselves?”
And so I explained to him in the best possible way that I could think to, that the Church is our hospital. It’s the hospital of the soul, and things like fasting, prayer rules, etc are given to us as tools for our spiritual and physical health. In the Didache, we are taught to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays out of reverence for what happened on those two days (the betrayal and the crucifixion), but those two weekly fast days also serve to help discipline our bodies, to bring our bodies into submission so that we don’t as easily become enslaved to our passions. Our regular prayer rule serves to bring us before the Lord to begin our day, refocusing on Him during the midday hours, and then end our day in communion with Him. It also serves to help us to relax and turn away from the distractions of life, even if for only an hour or so a day.
What’s funny to me is that dietitians have now come out as stating that intermittent fasting is indeed helpful to the body; that meditation (or prayer) is very useful for dealing with stress and anxiety; that the scent of frankincense is helpful in calming one’s mind. The very disciplines that the Church has been teaching for millenia, science has finally admitted, although relabeling it in more secular terms. He came out stating that I needed to trust science and not religion, and I was able to honestly respond that the science that they are only now releasing is taking the tenets of thousands of years of Church teaching and rebranding it.
But even more ironically, what I pointed out was that he had just gone to a doctor’s appointment, where the doctor told him that his cholesterol was elevated and he needed to watch his diet. And though he intended to obey, he was sitting there eating a breakfast sandwich with eggs, cheese, bacon, and sausage using french toast for the bread. I pointed out to him on the one hand that he had just gone to the doctor who had told him that eating habits like that were detrimental to his health, and yet, because his body desired it, he was throwing caution to the wind and caving to his passion; something I was able to avoid solely through the discipline of the Church. And the second thing that I pointed out to him was that he had just paid a doctor to tell him what he could and couldn’t eat; whereas the Church freely offers this direction to any who come into it. Many people pay hundreds to thousands of dollars to sit and have someone listen to them talk about everything that’s wrong in their life and receive advice, while in the Church not only is this offered, but is expected of us in confession. We freely receive this same therapy that the secular world pays so much money for. People pay so much money for self-help and TED talks, and we receive those same motivational teachings for free every week, and often times multiple times a week, during the priests homilies. And they are more productive, because they are rooted in the Gospel. He on the other hand had just paid someone hundreds of dollars to do exactly what he said that the Church should have no power to do, tell him what to eat.
For those who are not in the one true, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, I fully understand. I understand the reticence to be obedient to the Church. It means admitting that you are not in control of every aspect of your life. And that’s so hard for us to do in this culture, in this generation. It’s so hard to surrender that facade of control that we all seem to think we have over every part of our lives. But, for those of us in the Church, the Church is a hospital. It’s a place where sick people (sinners) go for healing (salvation); and much like going to the doctor, we have to go in and be honest about what’s wrong, receive the prescription, and obey it to be made whole again. The biggest difference between our hospital and the world’s hospital is that the world’s hospital can delay death and make us a little more comfortable; in our hospital death no longer holds any power, having lost it’s sting through the power of the resurrection.
I am not a doctor. If I start feeling ill or having chest pains, I go to an expert to seek treatment. I’m not a mechanic. If my car starts having problems, I take it to a mechanic, someone who knows what’s wrong and how to fix it. If I seek help in those small trivial matters, why would I not take full advantage of those experts who can help me with something as important as eternity? And likewise, if I go to a doctor or a mechanic, and they tell me something that I need to do to prevent those things happen again, I would adhere to their advice. So, why would I not adhere to those things which the Church instructs me as well? It makes no sense to me that a doctor can tell someone what to and not to eat and they would obey it, meanwhile the Church says not to eat certain things for a temporary period of time and they would immediately argue it. The Church says that you are awake 16-20 hours a day, dedicate one of them incrementally to prayer and everyone says that’s zealous, but Marvel releases a new movie and suddenly an hour doesn’t seem that long. You get on Facebook and suddenly you complain that you only have an hour to scroll through the highlight reel of the lives of people you’ve never met; constantly bombarding yourself with images of things you don’t have, rather than taking that time to be in communion with the One who gave you everything you do have.
The life of a Christian seems foolish and almost laughable to anyone who is not in the Church; as St Paul tells us, “If the dead do not rise, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32), and again, “if in this life only we have hope in Christ, then we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). If Christ is not risen then our faith is futile and we have sacrificed so much of our physical pleasure in the name of faith. And yet, “Christ is risen from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:20). And if Christ is risen then we are of all men most blessed. For we have received His inheritance, obey Him alone as the Lord and Master of our lives, and we grow to be more like Him every day, through the healing of our souls. And that healing, that salvation, comes through the truth, of which the Church is the “pillar and foundation.” Our hospital, our experts, leading us to the Physician. To whom belongs all glory, honor and majesty.
Christ is risen!