Lent has begun. Catholic tradition calls for us all to fast during the lenten season. So I urge you to fast. Offer the Lord a worthy fast. Please, don’t simply give up chocolate.
A priest who was at my parish for many years taught us to fast. It was not an easy thing, nor should it be. Look at what God did for us. God the Father sent us His only Son to redeem us. Our Father sacrificed His only Son in our place so that we would be cleansed of our sins by His death.
Now look at what God the Son did for us. Jesus walked among us, His creation. He taught the Apostles and other disciples. His commandments were to “love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind: and thy neighbour as thyself.” [Luke 10:27] One word sums up all commandments: love. Although He taught us to love, He was scourged at the pillar, had thorns pressed onto His head, was forced to carry His own cross. His hands and feet were nailed to that cross. He hung from that cross, and while hanging, suffering, He forgave those who were doing this to Him. At the end of three hours, Jesus died.
Surely, we can do more than give up chocolate.
Can we not do a proper fast? Here is what we learned about fasting. Fat Tuesday is so named because fat was to be used up by that day. This is why luxurious foods and cakes were eaten before Ash Wednesday. People needed to use up that fat, which includes butter, lard, oils, and other fats used in recipes. No fat was used during Lent.
Now, a traditional Catholic fast means one regular sized meal per day. I say regular sized because the meal is not supposed to be larger than the average sized meal you would normally eat. No gluttonous meals to make up for not eating at other times during the day. One or two small snacks are allowed, like a banana or apple, maybe a handful of nuts or a few crackers with cheese. Think small. The idea is to go hungry.
What is the purpose of a fast? To make us realize that no matter what we think, we are not the masters of our lives. We are weak. To make us remember we are to depend on God, not our own weak selves. “It is written, Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.” [Matthew 4:4]
Our priest urged us to go even further. Not only just one meal a day, but he suggested we not eat hot meals. Nor eat meat (not even fish). He asked us to stick to fruits, vegetables, cheese, nuts, and bread. He wanted us to make a real sacrifice.
Now, I took to this idea. The torture, the unimaginable pain that Jesus suffered, the utter agony from hanging on the cross, and finally His death. I figured my fast, sacrificing two meals a day, is nothing next to that.
Trying to fast like this, though, is difficult. Hunger is very uncomfortable. You’ll find you take more than you should for a snack. Maybe you’ll eat an extra large meal. But if you do have such failures, continue with the fast anyway. Don’t give up. You are fasting for God, not for yourself. (If, for health reasons, you are unable to fast this much, make some other daily sacrifice.)
Pray more during Lent. Praying the rosary every day is a good idea. Maybe say the sorrowful mysteries every time during Lent. As you’re praying each decade, really ponder the mystery–the agony in the garden, the scourging at the pillar, the crowning with thorns, the carrying of the cross, and the crucifixion. Try to stay focused. If you’re not sure about the details of each mystery, that is, what it says in the Bible, look it up and read about it. A good searchable Bible online is the Douay-Rheims Bible at drbo.org. Ignatius Press and EWTN both have apps with searchable Bibles.
The combination of your fast with lots of prayer during Lent is a good way to deepen your faith, to close the gap between you and God. Your small sacrifice will be appreciated by Christ, who voluntarily, and with a forgiving heart, made the ultimate sacrifice to save us from our sin.
So…does giving up chocolate really sound like a sacrifice?