The Christian season of Lent remembers Jesus’ fasting for forty days in the wilderness. The purpose of Lent is to prepare the believer for the remembrance of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, and to await the joyful remembrance at Easter of Jesus’ resurrection. For many Christians, Lent is a time of abstinence from certain kinds of food.
In this meditation, Fénelon shies away from a fearful, self-absorbed fast that focuses on morsels of food. Instead, he desires a joyful privation of the senses that turns its focus on the divine Bridegroom, a soul that joins the psalmist in crying out, “My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.”
Dear God, I have now entered a time of privation and abstinence. But it serves no purpose to fast from food, which nourishes the body, if we do not also fast from everything that serves to nourish the love of self. Divine spouse of souls, give me the inner chasteness, the purity of heart, the separation from every created thing, the soberness that your apostle spoke of—soberness that consists not only of the sparing use of food and drink, but also the cultivation of an earnestly thoughtful character marked by temperance, moderation, and seriousness. When practicing soberness, we use created things only out of necessity. It is a blessed fast when the soul holds all the senses in a state of being deprived of anything that exceeds what is sufficient and necessary. It is a holy abstinence when the soul’s hunger is filled by God’s will and never feeds on its own will. Like Jesus, it has another food on which it feeds. Lord, give me that bread that is above every substance, the bread that will satisfy the hunger of my heart forever. Give me that bread that puts out the fires of every desire, the bread that is the true manna and that takes the place of everything else.
Dear God, let all created things keep silence before me, and let me keep silence before them in this holy season of Lent. Let my soul be fed in silence by fasting from all vain conversation. Let me feed on you alone and on the cross of your son, Jesus.
But must I be in continual fear of breaking this inner fast through consolations that I might enjoy on the outside? No, dear God, you do not want that kind of anguish and worry. Your Spirit is a spirit of love and freedom, not a spirit of fear and servitude. Therefore, I will renounce everything that is not in your order of things for me. I will renounce everything that I experience that diverts me too much from my true purpose. I will renounce everything that people who are leading me to you deem that I must set aside. Finally, I will renounce everything that you yourself will take away from me through the events of your divine providence.
I will peacefully bear all these privations. And here is what I will add to them: in every innocent and necessary conversation, I will cut out what you cause me to feel inwardly to be nothing other than seeking myself. When I feel myself brought to make some kind of sacrifice over and above that, I will do it cheerfully. Furthermore, dear God, I know that you desire that hearts that love you should keep a wide berth from things of the world.
I will behave with confidence and trust, like a child that plays in its mother’s arms. I will rejoice before the Lord. I will do my best to give joy to others. I will pour out my heart without fear in the company of God’s children. All I want is forthrightness, freedom from guile, and the joy of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, dear God, keep far away from me that sad and fearful understanding that is always gnawing on itself, that is always holding scales in its hands to weigh the tiniest thing, out of fear of breaking that inner fast! It does you an injustice not to behave simply with you, like a child. That kind of harsh inflexibility is unworthy of your fatherly compassion. You want us to love you alone—that is what is meant by your being a “jealous God.” But when we love you, you allow love to behave freely, and you see quite well what truly comes from love.
Therefore, dear God, I will fast from every movement of the will that is not yours. But I will fast out of love, in the freedom and in the abundance of my heart. How unhappy is the soul that is shrunken and dried up upon itself, that is afraid of everything, and that, because of its fear, has no time to love and to run generously after the divine Bridegroom! How strict is the fast that you cause the soul to undergo, yet without torturing it. Nothing remains in the heart except the beloved, leaving the soul only fainting and ready to expire with love.
This is the great fast, when mortals see their poverty completely exposed, when the slightest vestige of their life in themselves is torn out by the roots. Who can understand that great fast of pure faith? Where is there a soul that has enough courage to accomplish it? What limitless privation that is! What renouncing of ourselves as well as of the most vain things outside ourselves! What faithfulness of a soul that leaves itself behind in order to follow you out of a jealous love, without shrinking back, allowing everything to be taken away from it!
Lord, this is the sacrifice of those who worship you in spirit and truth. It is out of these trials that we become worthy of you.
Go ahead, Lord: make my soul empty, hungry, and fainting. Do with me according to your good pleasure. I will keep silence, I will worship you, and I will keep saying, “Your will be done,” and not mine. You are the only thing that I desire, dear God.