Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24
“You cannot imagine anything more wonderful than their union, candour, and simplicity. Impressed by their great austerities I asked them one day if such a hard life did not affect their health and shorten their lives. They replied that there were hardly ever any invalids amongst them, and that very few died young, most of them living to be over eighty. They added that fasting and mortification contributed to improve their health and to prolong life, which good cheer usually tended to shorten. I have never beheld such gaiety and holy joy anywhere else…”
Jean-Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751) in “Letters on the Practice of Abandonment to Divine Providence” excerpt from Letter VII “To a Holy Community” in Abandonment to Divine Providence (Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library) 133.
This post represents a priceless glimpse into the correspondence of deeply committed followers of Christ who are abandoned to divine providence.
In this letter, Jean-Pierre is writing about his experience with the Community of Poor Clares. As you may recall, Clare of Assisi was a close companion of Francis who urged women to follow the rule of Francis which is summed up in three texts from the Gospels: Matthew 19:21, Luke 9:3, and Matthew 16:24.
To this day, the Community of Poor Clares are known for living lives of prayer in community with joy. People may think that austere fasting and mortification leave a person empty, but notice that Jean-Pierre finds them healthy and joyful. They experience holy joy.
I pray that is your experience of fasting and mortification too. We deny ourselves daily during Lent not to in any way bring harm to the body and spirit, but rather to help us. The benefits are both spiritual and physical. No wonder Jesus said that anyone who wants to be a disciple must deny themselves daily and follow Him.
What at first glance seems like a hard life actually contributes to a healthy life. It appears that we are giving up things, when in reality we are getting better things. It’s a paradox of the generosity journey. You don’t figure out until you live it out.
The best part about the feast days of Lent (the seven Sundays), is that you learn to appreciate that which you have fasted from, but now your find yourself no longer under the control of such things. You realize, you don’t really need them after all, though maybe you thought you did. You find yourself free and bountifully cared for by divine providence. This is where the joy comes into view.
I pray that in Christ your joy is full and holy!