Who likes to fast? When I was growing up, fasting and abstinence were part of our family routine as Catholics. We fasted for several hours before going to Mass all the time, and of course, we fasted and abstained during Lent. I can still remember the countdown until Easter when we finally could eat candy again and the endless arguments about whether Sunday was a day off.
Today, many embrace fasting for purely secular reasons, such as the cleansing of the body, losing weight, or perhaps simple living. Sadly, however, we may have forgotten the deeply religious foundation for these acts of sacrifice.
I fast because Jesus told me to do so in the Gospels. He also did it. Someone once said that Jesus was so deeply engaged in His prayer with Abba, His Heavenly Father, that he couldn’t even think of food. Like an emergency, when we are so concerned for a loved one in need and suddenly discover that we had gone a day without food, so Jesus was so close to His Father that He forgot about eating. Thus, as we fast during Lent, we try to forget about eating so that we might imitate and experience the closeness of Jesus to our Heavenly Father. Fasting done correctly leads us to deeper prayer and, not surprisingly, to greater concern for others. Jesus was so in love that he couldn’t eat; we stop some eating so that we might become so in love!
In the seminary, it was called detachment. I intentionally remove myself from things so that I might live more simply. Jesus, who is the Eternal Word was made flesh, empties Himself of His divinity to take on our humanity and becomes poor and humble so that we might uncover the riches that only He can bring. During these days you and I are challenged, through our acts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, to make ourselves humble, generous, and detached from the things of this world so that we might become rich in God’s lavish love and have this love touch our hearts as we walk with Jesus along the path of Holy Week.
This Lent I will be returning to a sacrifice I have observed in previous years: giving up sweets and desserts, as well as observing the Friday fast. (As a reminder, fasting and abstinence during Lent require no meat on Friday and no snacks, with only one major meal, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.) Then, I’ll count the cost of sweets each day and give a donation to Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl program as Holy Week nears. (For more information about this program, go here.
In this way, hopefully, the interior conversion and sacrificial love to which we are called during Lent – deepened by our prayer, fasting, and abstinence – overflows into acts of service and generosity expressed through our almsgiving.
Reflections on these three ways of Lent – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – were contained in the recent Catholic Connection e-newsletter. Sign up to receive this newsletter each month by going here.
Each Lent I choose a companion book! Of course Sacred Scripture is first, but I also choose other resources. This year I am reading the book Roman Pilgrimage: The Station Churches by George Weigel.
Msgr. Ed Thompson, the twin brother of my good friend Bishop David Thompson who died late last year, sent me the volume. It is very attractive, but a bit pricey, with beautiful photos of the station churches of Rome. The tradition, which I will know a lot more about by the end of Lent, is to walk to a different Church or “station” in Rome each Lenten morning, leading one deeper into the mystery of Christ and of our Baptism into Christ. This adventure, of course, is at the core of Lent, and my acts of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving allow me to respond to that lavish and redemptive love of Christ that ought to overwhelm my daily life.
The book’s introduction identifies Lent’s focus as “conversion to Jesus Christ and the deepening of our friendship with him.” It includes a 2011 quote from Pope Emeritus Benedict calling Sacred Scripture “the adventure of God, the greatness of what he has done for us.” As I read a chapter each day, I look forward to imaginatively participating in this pilgrimage.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, also made a pilgrimage the morning of Ash Wednesday as he processed from St. Anselmo to the Basilica of St. Sabina, the Dominican Church on the Aventine Hill for the blessing and imposition of ashes. I wrote here about St. Sabina in a blog from Rome two years ago, just after the death of Archbishop Kelly, recalling and celebrating the gift of his Dominican roots to our Archdiocese.
Good reading and fasting are two channels for the Lord Jesus to act within our souls during these precious forty days. I hope that all of you have a blessed Lent!