If you happen to be a Saint and you happen to die or get killed in a Leap year on February 29th – I guess you only get celebrated every four years! Ok – Not really — your date is moved to February 28th. Since this is a Leap year I thought it would be good to highlight the writings of John Cassian ( died Februray 29, 435). I ordered The Works of John Cassian for $.99 on Kindle and have enjoyed readings his instructions on the clothing of the monastics, the use of psalms, the daily prayers, renunciation and fasting, etc. In particular I wanted to share this short passage about fasting:
“Let us not believe that an external fast from visible food alone can possibly be sufficient for perfection of heart and purity of body unless with it there has also been united a fast of the soul. For the soul also has its foods that are harmful. Slander is its food and indeed one that is very dear to it. A burst of anger also supplies it with miserable food for an hour and destroys it as well with its deadly savour. Envy is food of the mind, corrupting it with its poisonous juices and never ceasing to make it wretched and miserable at the prosperity and success of another. Vanity is its food which gratifies the mind with a delicious meal for a time but afterward strips it clear and bare of all virtue. Then vanity dismisses it barren and void of all spiritual fruit. All lust and shift wanderings of heart are a sort of food for the soul, nourishing it on harmful meats but leaving it afterwards without a share of its heavenly bread and really solid food. If then, with all the powers we have, we abstain from these in a most holy fast our observance of the bodily fast will be both useful and profitable.”
It is a good thing that we might fast from sweets or abstain from our favourite meat or beverage for the Lenten journey. But as Cassian pointed out to the Desert Fathers, it is hardly enough. We need to be mindful during this Holy season that we fast from slander, bursts of anger, envy, vanity, lust – I am sure we can list a few more. I need to fast from impatience for instance. It would not hurt for me to abstain from talking too much. You may have your own list. I encourage us today to think about what we are fasting from in Lent and at this point add to that fast – add something that feeds the lesser angels of our nature.
Cassian is also quick as well to remind us that all of this study and prayer and fasting is pretty empty if we have not learned to love.
Fasts and vigils, the study of Scripture, renouncing possessions and everything worldly are not in themselves perfection, as we have said; they are its tools. For perfection is not to be found in them; it is acquired through them. It is useless, therefore, to boast of our fasting, vigils, poverty, and reading of Scripture when we have not achieved the love of God and our fellow [human beings]. Whoever has achieved love has God within himself and his intellect is always with God.
All of what we do in Lent is to be a tool to bring us closer to God – closer to LOVE. We are called to love of God and love of neighbour. Our prayers, our extra church, our book studies, our retreats, our giving up, our taking up, our repentance, our self examination should all act as tools to motivate us to be lovers.
Speaking of lovers, I did a little looking and see that the another saint whose life ended on February 29 is Saint Oswald of Worcester – Archbishop of York (29 February 992). One of the Celtic Saints, St Oswald’s Day should have some meaning for us. “He strictly refrained from violent measures, relying instead upon prayer, fasting, dialogue and fatherly admonitions. He promoted learning amongst the clergy in his diocese and invited many scholars, including mathematicians and astronomers from Fleury, to instruct and preach in England. [Angelo Stagnaro – national Catholic Register]”
One of his Lenten rituals was to daily wash the feet of the poor. Accordingly he died washing the feet of the poor on this day in 992. We might take a page out of his book as well. While fasting as encouraged by Cassian, we may take up acts of service to the poor, the vulnerable and the hurting.
Thanks be to God for John Cassian and Oswald of Worcester – The Leapling Saints! They have given the church much food for thought on which we shall feast. They feed the better angels of our nature.