“Where there is no prayer and fasting,” intoned a modern ascetic named Theophan the Recluse, “there are demons.”
Where there is no fasting and prayer — no expiation — there may be also stains on our robes: what we will wear when we enter the afterlife.
This is what we should seek — especially during the purifying time of Lent: the cleansing of our deepest, inner selves.
When we don’t expiate — atone for sins (besides confessing them, which of course is the critical first step) — God may allow trials or sufferings to help do it for us (more His Mercy than punishment).
To expiate means to “redeem,” to “make amends for.” We participate with Christ Our Redeemer on the Cross.
Look to Revelation 3:4-5: “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of lives.”
Prayer and fasting lead the way. Fasting — in whatever best way you can do it — is crucial is casting out evil, in washing your eternal laundry, in entering eternity with “wedding garments” (Mathew 22).
Purifying the innermost self is something that demands our attention all day every day and right now.
Said Theophanes “Clearly imagine the senselessness, folly and danger of procrastination. You say: ‘later,’ but later it will be even harder to do, because you will become even more accustomed to the sin, and your sinful situations and connections will become even more involved. But what point is there for one who is entangled to become more and more entangled, thinking all the while that it will be just as easy later as now to disentangle oneself? If you have already understood that you must not stay the way you are, then why tarry? Go after the body. Refuse it delights and pleasures, restrict indulgences.”
This is the joy of Lent — and it produces great fruit: reining in the flesh. “This kind can only come out through prayer and fasting,” said Jesus when His disciples were having trouble delivering someone (Mark 9:29).
It is time to take hold of all bad habits, thought patterns, inclinations, excesses, sloth, and every form of lacking and sin and cast it out — lest we enter eternity in the purgatory of the outer darkness.
Do we not read (speaking of a man without proper attire), the king saying (Matthew: 22:13), “Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
We waste hours and days and years; in our youths, or after, there may even be lost decades. That is: times we were blinded by worldly lust and fixations and strayed from Christ, sinning because sin was no longer of consequence to us. We were stumbling about in outer and inner darkness. We stained the robes of eternity.
It may have been greed. It may have been sexual. It may have been living a lie. It may have been spending our time in competition instead of cooperation. It may have been years during which we feuded or held a grudge. It may have been stretches of our lives when we neglected to love. Everyone surely has had periods like that! It all can be redeemed through Jesus — when we take hold of the situation without delay, for God is perfect and every minute counts.
Let us stop looking for the faults in others and concentrate on the perfection God seeks to install in our own souls. Go through your life with Jesus and allowing Him to rectify what needs to be rectified — purify your past, especially during Lent, with fasting as well as you can — and feel the lost years come back to you. Anything can be changed with timeless God.
Once more the prayer from Saint Teresa of Avila:
“O my God! Source of all mercy! I acknowledge Your sovereign power. While recalling the wasted years that are past, I believe that You, Lord, can in an instant turn this loss to gain. Miserable as I am, yet I firmly believe that You can do all things. Please restore to me the time lost, giving me Your grace, both now and in the future, that I may appear before You in ‘wedding garments.'”