Nor are we Christians alone in the value we place on fasting. It is an integral part of the spirituality of Jews, Muslims, and Eastern Religions.
And it’s not that I haven’t tried. I could say about fasting what Will Rogers said about smoking: “Nothing is easier than deciding to stop smoking. I do it every day!”
It’s just that – as is obvious to anybody who looks at me – I’m not very successful when it comes to fasting.
Yet, in just six days, next Wednesday, Feb. 25, I’ll take a deep breath, say a prayer for perseverance, and resolve again to fast … because it’s Ash Wednesday, and Lent will begin.
Along with prayer and acts of mercy, fasting is one of the three traditional Lenten practices.
Those about my age and older will remember when we Catholics were renowned for our frequent acts of communal self-denial: Every Friday, we abstained from meat; every day of Lent (except Sundays), we fasted (only one full meal, two other light ones, and no eating between meals); each of the four seasons of the year featured “Ember Days,” when fasting was required; and, the eve of great feasts, even Christmas Eve, was a day of fast and abstinence.
While the church jettisoned legislated fasting in 1967 (except on Ash Wednesday, and the Fridays of Lent), the church could never get rid of fasting itself, since the imperative to fast comes from the Son of God Himself.
As often happens, when the church throws something out, others retrieve it. So now an article in the Los Angeles Times reports on growing data that occasionally skipping meals, or eating very lightly, is medically wise, to be encouraged.
Now, of course, it’s chic to abstain from meat always, and eating fish is hardly thought penitential, and almost every restaurant has a “lite menu” for the growing number of customers (not me!) who prefer a minimum of food. And we Catholics used to be considered weird!
If you get a chance, read the “Message for Lent” from Pope Benedict XVI <http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/lent/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20081211_lent-2009_en.html>. Guess what the Holy Father writes! “Fasting certainly brings benefits to physical well-being, but, for believers, it is, in the first place, a ‘therapy’ to heal all that prevents them from conformity to the will of God.”
This is hardly new, the pope continues. After all, when you think about it, the only “rule” God gave Adam and Eve was “not to eat the fruit” of the one tree.
Jesus, the Holy Father reminds us, extolled fasting, and did it himself. And the Fathers of the Church urged it as a way to avoid sin and grow closer to the passion of Christ. Listen to him: “Denying food, which nourishes our body, nurtures an interior disposition to listen to Christ and be fed by his saving word. Through prayer and fasting, we allow him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God.”
And, finally, Benedict reminds us, fasting draws us closer to those for whom eating little or nothing is hardly a choice, but a daily grinding reality, the poor and famished of the world.
So, I’ll be at it again. And I’ll try not to whine about it, or, if I’m successful, to brag about it.
In the meantime, bring on the paczki next Tuesday, and the fish fries of Lent!
… I’ll be darn … I’m weakening already!