I know that during Lent we are to pray, fast and give alms. How can our busy family with growing children, hectic schedules and frequent stops for fast food, fulfill the Lenten practice of fasting? It doesn’t seem doable for today’s families.
Let’s first look to the reasons we fast. During Lent we enter an intentional time of living more deeply into the mystery of Jesus’ life, passion and death. We consciously focus on these mysteries. Fasting is one way we sharpen our attention to what is essential during this season of spiritual housecleaning. Fasting is an age-old practice that has a healing effect on the body, mind and spirit, and is part of all the great religious traditions of the world.
Fasting is an example of the truth of the adage that “less is more.” Getting rid of excess has a cleansing and purifying effect on our bodies and minds. People who practice regular fasting report greater alertness, luminous skin, increased gratitude for their lives and a deeper peace and awareness of God’s presence.
In all three liturgical cycles we begin Lent with the story of Jesus fasting in the desert. This was an accepted practice of his time, a way of praying with one’s body and soul and a means of spiritual strengthening to prepare for one’s mission. Fasts were also undertaken to prepare for holidays and celebrations, traditional times of feasting.
Questions for Christ may be sent to her at Catholic Herald Parenting, PO Box 070913, Milwaukee, 53207-0913 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights. As a responsible parent, you are not going to starve yourself or your children, but let me suggest some doable ways for your family to fast during Lent.
Start by examing your family’s eating patterns in a typical week. Look at the frequency of desserts, snacks and fast food “runs.” Check what’s in your lunch bags: elimination of the bag of chips, extra cookies or soft drink might be the obvious choice for your Lenten fast.
Does your family enjoy a dessert at every meal? Fast from desserts entirely or save them for only Sundays during Lent. Instead of chips and sweets for TV snacks, have vegetables and a healthy dip. Fast from carbohydrates and add more vegetables to your main meal. Slow down the pace of your lives, eat more meals at home, pray together before eating, chew your food adequately and drink only water with your meals. While growing children need good nutrition every day, adults do well with a one- or two-day juice fast once a month. Research shows the health benefits from these types of fasts as the energy usually used for digestion (more than 30 percent of overall energy expenditure) can be used for the body to rid itself of toxins and to begin to heal itself.
St. Benedict urged his monks to live a life of moderation. He recommended that during Lent the monks should reduce their food and drink intake by a moderate amount, should sleep a little less, read their Bible more and abstain from unimportant talk and foolishness. Might we also fast from complaining, negativity, calling names, gossiping and in all ways proclaiming “me first!”?
Since we are coming up on the fourth week of Lent, you might be thinking: “These are great ideas. I’ll save them for next year!” Please, don’t postpone your fast! It’s never too late to begin your Lenten practices, never too late to grow more deeply into the mystery of Jesus who leads us to his Father’s kingdom.
Start today by sitting down with your family to read the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. Show them this article; discuss these and other ideas your family has about fasting. Choose one method and begin now! Help each other with the discipline and when you come to the glorious celebration of Easter, rejoice and be glad, offering all your efforts to our Lord who loves you so much! St. Basil the Great said, “If all people followed the advice to fast, it would answer their questions, and nothing would stop peace from reigning in the world.”
(Christ is a consultant in ministry in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The married mother of four young adult children, she gives talks and workshops, leads retreats and is a spiritual director. Christ self-publishes materials for parishes, and is the author of “Journeying with Mark,” “Journeying with Luke” and “Journeying with Matthew.” Published by Paulist Press, the books are intended to be used by families in the car on the way to Mass.)