Taken from Athanasius Contra Mundum
It is of course just like me to begin a post on Advent after Advent has already begun. I prefer not to blog on Sundays, then the week turned out to be 3 times busier than I expected. I had all kinds of ideas for what I was going to write early this morning, but then I woke up late. Figures.
One of the things I find fascinating is that while in the Eastern Church there had always been a fast preceding the celebration of the birth of Christ, there has never been a canonical fast in the west. The nature of the fast varies according to the sources you read, but it had never at any time the force of law to fast for either 40 days or the 4 Sundays of Advent. Even in the Eastern Church, the fast is not as rigorous as the Great Lent because it is said to have come not from the Apostles as the fast at lent but from pious traditions of men, at least according to Dom Gueranger.
Regardless of which tradition, east or west, one is going to follow, we should fast and pray in some manner befitting a serious preparation for the coming of God.
Something I find fascinating about Christmas time as a whole is that all year around men blaspheme God, mock him and sin against him, then all of the sudden at Christmas time, they are happy to sing songs about a child born in Bethlehem, carols that declare Christ is God and the king of the new Israel and even put out a nativity set somewhere. Of course they don't really care about Our Lord because they set up trees only to see presents, foolishly and imprudently spend hundreds of dollars beyond their means and offend God by curses and slanders against his name because they have to wait in line longer. In fact, a friend of mine who works for Walmart sent me a picture of the after Thanksgiving blitz. People who had waited in line since 1am burst into the door at 5am when the store opened, like craven animals running for the first sight of food in days. Why? A 52" TV was on sale. Wow. I don't think you can get that through the baggage checkers on your way into heaven. No, it gets muddled up with all the vices and sins and things.
What is truly sad however, is that often we Christians are little different. We just have different baggage. For example, avoiding the commercialism of Christmas, we decide we are going to be better than everyone else. Yet we are still rude to our parents, we still don't give God His due in prayer, and we still don't make a suitable home for the Christ-child. In fact, it is generally more like Herod's welcome rather than that of the shepherds.
What can we do about this state of affairs? Fasting and prayer. For some that means taking on more tasks, for others giving things up. In the Eastern Church there is fasting and abstinence from meat on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while on Tuesday and Thursday a simple abstinence from meat. For Latin Catholics, we have traditions of fasting but no law. Nothing prevents us from fasting from meat and sweets (and alcohol) at least an extra day or two a week. Furthermore, there are things we can do which we do not ordinarily do like reciting the offices of the Church, Lauds and Vespers, learning Psalms in Latin which you can recite during the day, or Eucharistic adoration. Fill your mangers with straw, not with nails should be our motto, because we easily become like everyone else. It is for Christians rather to be against the world, and especially the worldliness in ourselves.