Ember Wednesday in Advent 2021

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

My Brethren in Christ Jesus, blessings, and peace, on this Ember Wednesday in Advent. There are Ember Days in each of the four seasons set aside for the faithful in prayer and in abstinence to consecrate the particular gifts of that season to the glory of God. We should call to mind first the many blessings in our lives. Then, we should think upon the extent to which we may misuse or, perhaps, not even recognize those blessings. We should ask for forgiveness for all the times we have fallen astray with the gifts given unto us. Finally, we should rededicate ourselves to the disciplined life that allows us to orient ourselves to that grace that God offers us in His Son and through the Holy Spirit. This is particularly important; for the final objective of the Ember Days discipline is not to call to mind how bad we are, nor is it to cultivate self-hatred under the guise of solemn piety, but rather to inspire us to do more and to do better with all that we have been given going forward. The fast and the abstinence of Embers Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday ideally serve two purposes. In holding back even a little from what we could have, we remind ourselves that we are not servants to our own passions. We may pull back the reigns upon our appetites, not just for food and wine, but for whatever it is that may fixate our minds and our hearts away from our soul’s longing for God. Though the soul may find momentary inspiration, pleasure, and even a semblance of joy, in so much of what there is to see and to do in this big and bountiful world of ours, in the beginning as in the end she longs only for God. There is no other appetite which, when indulged, will console that longing; no other passion which, when mastered, will prove a worthier substitute. Our minds and our hearts may wander, but for the soul it is God, or it is nothing. When we fast, and when we abstain, we remind ourselves that we are free to pursue God, and need not be servants to all the false gods and the unsatisfying appetites out there that serve only to keep us off the righteous path and mired in the thickets. The fast and the abstinence of Embers Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday also serve to instill in us a renewed zeal for the better life God has in store for the faithful. We should start to see in the gifts of the season so much more than just a means for survival or a source of momentary pleasure. Survival is good. Pleasure in moderation is fine. But to the extent we are reborn into the life and the death of Christ Jesus, we do not live for these. Our lives are meant for eternity, where survival gives way to the wellspring of life, and where pleasure gives way to absolute joy. When freed from our servitude to the appetites of this world, we can start to focus more on the life and the world that God intends for us. If the price to be paid in renewing this zeal for God is a momentary restraint from our normal indulgences, then that is not really a price at all. God is not a merchant in the sky watching us from beside His Heavenly cash register. He is not parsing out grace to us in measure to the amount of fasting and abstinence we pay up to Him. Far from that, He offers us much more grace than anything we offer unto Him. Moreover, in the fast and the abstinence of Embertide, God is teaching us that His gift of grace in our lives is not a reward for whatever disciplined restraint we can maintain on these days. Rather, our self-restraint is an outward sign of the grace already given unto us. We can hold back from our appetites, because God is holding us up like a father holds up his child who is unable to walk forward on his own. In fasting and in abstaining we remember that we are children of God. We live in this fallen world, but are not of this fallen world; and we can overcome the enticements that are all around us for no other reason than that God has been with us from the start and will be with us unto the end.

Traditionally, Ember Wednesday in Advent is set aside for the faithful to pray that God may call forth more men to Holy Orders. A man in Holy Orders is said to be living a vocational life, which is to say a life lived in service to God and to his fellow men beyond, and sometimes contrary to, his own personal needs or interests. There is an element of self-negation in any serious attempt at a vocational life, and yet as with the fast and the abstinence of Embertide the restraint is not meant to instill a kind of self-hatred so much as to open up the man to the greater work God is undertaking in and through that man’s life. In his self-restraint, the man hopefully is better able to see God’s greater power and authority at work in his ministry. As St. John the Baptist says in reference to Christ Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” In decreasing in his earthly life and attachments, even to the point of death, if necessary, St. John the Baptist is permitting Christ Jesus to increase in and through whatever may be left of his life in this world. His life now is subsumed into his vocation for Christ Jesus. There is nothing else that matters, and so for this reason St. John the Baptist loses himself and embraces eternity. What he has forsaken is added unto the glory of God, and so for his small loss is immeasurable gain. When we understand the vocational life in this manner, we see that this is the central character not just of men called to Holy Orders, but of all Christians. To be a Christian is to live for Christ, and so to be a Christian is to exercise self-restraint so that we may learn over time to be dead to this dark world and alive for the Father’s Kingdom. The grace of Embertide is in seeing how our self-restraint may be the occasion for God working in and through our negation to bring about so much more than what we have given up. St. Leo the Great explains this in a sermon he delivered on fasting as follows: “Fasting has ever been the nourishment of virtue. Abstinence is the source of chaste thoughts, wise resolutions, and salutary counsel. But since fasting alone is not sufficient to secure a soul’s salvation, let us add to it works of mercy to the poor. Let us make that which we retrench from indulgence, serve unto the exercise of virtue. Let the abstinence of him that fasts, become the meal of the poor man.”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

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