We are just on the cusp of the great Lenten Season. Lent is a time for fasting, abstinence from meat, reflection and reform. The Church requires all Catholics from age 18 until age 59 to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting means a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal.
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and all the Fridays of Lent are also days of abstinence for anyone 14 or older. Abstinence in this context means not eating meat. Instead of the pepperoni or sausage pizza, you’d eat the cheese or veggie pizza. I know it’s a terrible hardship, but you’re likely to survive. In an earlier time, Christians went vegan for the entire Lenten season. Fast days meant eating and drinking nothing. The Catholic Church of today wants to encourage a basic level of fasting and abstaining. You are welcome to add more, but you shouldn’t do less. A good friend of mine give up snacks, sweets, and condiments last Lent. He said it was exactly the right thing for him. What is the right sacrifice for you this Lent?
More importantly, why do we fast? In the Beginning, in the Garden of Eden, God required one little fast from Adam and Eve: not to eat the fruit of one single tree. Adam and Eve broke the fast. Essentially they chose food over God. By fasting a little in order to strengthen our relationship with God, we are choosing God over food. Fasting is ultimately about abstaining from sin. It is also about preparing for God. We fast for one hour from all foods (except water) before receiving the Eucharist. Fasting prepares our bodies, and our hearts, to be truly fed by the Bread of Life. Fasting is a clear way of declaring that we depend ultimately on God and not on the resources of this world.
Children go hungry every day all over the world, and even in America. Fasting is a means of solidarity with the poor. It is a way of leaving resources for others. It is also a path to self-discipline, greater chastity, and a restraining of the appetites. Who know that a few small sacrifices could mean so much? Happy Lent!