Lent is coming, and with it comes both a renewed commitment to our Christian way of life and a continuation of the struggle to carry our individual crosses alongside Jesus Christ. In other words, during Lent we seek rejuvenation by experiencing the Church’s liturgical cycle; every year we accept anointing with ashes, attend the Stations of the Cross, and see the beauty of our churches covered over in the name of our Lord’s Passion. And yet, every year the process is new; no two Lenten seasons are the same. In this spirit, I would like to turn to an often forgotten part of Christian commitment: fasting. It is my hope that in fasting together we might experience a season of special and rejuvenating repentance.
These days Lent is mostly associated with “giving up” something or another, that is forsaking some pleasure in the name of God; in doing so, we commit ourselves to the Lord not only to prepare ourselves for him but also to grow in holiness, to become better co-heirs of Christ. Though powerful, this fasting could, I believe, be made more powerful by a more traditional form of fasting: fasting from food. In Eastern churches during Lent, this often takes the form of forsaking wine, oil, dairy, eggs, and meat, undeniably a huge challenge. Such extreme fasting is not foreign to the Western tradition. Throughout Church history, going without meat on Fridays was considered a holy act.
I cannot help but wonder if a return to such a mindset, especially during this most holy time, would be helpful, not merely for the sake of personal spiritual development but also to reinforce the notion of Catholics as a community. To, say, give up meat entirely or, even, to do what many Eastern Catholics and Orthodox do and essentially go vegan, is to act as a community, to tell the world: I am a Christian even in the face of immense secularity. Sustenance is reduced in order to strengthen bonds of faith. And, more importantly, it says, what defines me as a Christian is my willingness to serve, to suffer in carrying my cross; it’s a sort of 40 day Ash Wednesday.
Further, it’s a political statement to come together in fasting. The Didache, among the earliest (mid to late first century) non-Biblical Christian texts, asserts: “But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites; for they fast on the second and fifth day of the week; but fast on the fourth day [Wednesday] and the Preparation [Friday].” Here, fasting identifies Christians as unique, as apart from the world. Solidarity is part of fasting, and what better time to come together than during a season of collective penance as well as political primaries? In fasting, we assert that we are Catholics above all else.
Of course, it is always best to consult with your spiritual director before deciding precisely how to go about fasting, but it seems to me that in these times a look backwards, toward tradition, toward abstaining from food and increasing prayerfulness could do no harm; in fact, it’s a form of political and social protest. To this end, I will leave a few resources pertaining to fasting below. May God have mercy on us all as we enter a period of deepened repentance and renewed faith.