15 February 2009

The Return of Christ (Meatfare)

Today is Eastern Catholic "Mardi Gras": Meatfare Sunday. The last day to eat meat before the beginning of Lent. Dairy and oil can still be used until next Sunday when Lent gets into full swing.

In the Lenten Triodion, today looks forward to the Last Judgement. If you follow the daily readings of the eastern typicon you would have noticed many references to Christ's return recently.

Our Gospel reading for today comes from Matthew 25:31-46. In it Jesus describes the Last Judgement in vivid detail. The Kontakion for the day echoes this and pleads, "deliver me then from the unquenchable fire and make me worthy to stand at Your right hand, O most Righteous Judge."

I find it interesting that the Epistle reading, 1 Corinthians 8:8-9:2, doesn't talk about the coming of Christ, but rather instructs us about the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. "If food is the cause of my brother's falling, I will never eat meat..." and "Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do."

Fasting is not some way of punishing ourselves to please a cosmic sadist. Rather it is a discipline, done for reasons such as charity, propriety, or gaining mastery over your passions. Fasting for the wrong reasons is worse than not fasting it all.

It is easy for Eastern Catholics and Orthodox to get prideful about the austerity of our fasting compared to that of our Western brothers. Let us fast for the right reasons and combine it with increased prayer and alms-giving.

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