Two weeks ago, I wrote about the season of Lent and promised that I’d be back to talk about the three fundamental practices of the Lenten season, namely fasting, prayer, and alms giving. Today, I begin to make good on that promise with a discussion of the most well known and most practiced, the discipline of fasting.
When I say that fasting is the most well known and practiced of the three, I mean that it is known and practiced even by people outside of the faith. I’ve never had a conversation around the topic of Lent that didn’t involve the question, “What are you giving up?” In addition, I know a great many lapsed and non-Catholics who still hold onto this tradition of fasting, and for good reason. There is no shortage of benefits to be received, both mentally and physically, from giving up certain luxuries that we’ve taken for granted.
Obviously, from the Church perspective, those benefits are still good and should be celebrated. They aren’t, however, the true goal. Our fasting is about breaking our dependencies on created things so that we will realize that all we really need is God alone. So often, we say that we trust God to provide for us, but in our Lenten fasting, we find out whether or not we really mean it.
Before I close out this post, though, I do want to briefly touch on something different from fasting that sometimes gets lumped together with it. Sometimes people approach fasting in Lent similarly to how they approach New Year’s Resolutions. They view it as a good time to break some of their bad habits, or even to break away from specific, habitual sins. To be clear, none of this is a bad thing. This time of reflection in the desert is an ideal time be purified this way. It is not, however, fasting. Fasting is giving up a good to make us freer to receive the Good, which is God from whom all blessings flow.