How To Make the Fast Last

Reflections on fasting for your journey through Lent

fasting-2It was an unsettling moment in second grade when we discovered Ash Wednesday to Easter was actually 46 days. Sundays didn’t count. And the Lent day tally came to a grinding halt on Holy Thursday rather than Easter.

Obvious questions followed: Was I a better Catholic if I also avoided chocolate on Sundays? Did God love me more if I went above and beyond, or less for not following the rules? And was Jesus eating snacks at the Last Supper, seeing as it wasn’t technically part of Lent? Should I?

I wonder how much of this kind of mindset continues to lurk in the shadows of my recent Lenten journeys, pulling the strings as I give up or take up something. After all, it’s so much easier to point to rules and regulations and call that the voyage of faith, rather than to cast yourself into the endless, tumultuous ocean of God’s love and allow yourself to be tossed about in all directions.

Nevertheless, each Ash Wednesday I erect a scaffolding of dos and don’ts, and somewhere around day 11, I inadvertently trip over the doorframe and the whole structure comes tumbling down. And who has the energy to rebuild? I’ll just wait until next year. (Because 40 days of fasting only comes around once a year, right?)

So, mindset matters. Commitment matters, too. But it’s funny, because God has already told us exactly what God has in mind regarding fasting:

Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke; 
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking off every yoke?
Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry,
bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own flesh?

(Isaiah 58:6-7)

We commit to do our best. We endeavor to become the best version of ourselves. But we do so within a very particular context:  building up the reign of God in the here and now.

How do we do this, concretely? By following Christ, God who “emptied himself” of what it meant to be God to take on what it meant to be another — us. Daily, I am reminded of how my Eric-ness gets in the way of loving other people. My own biases, jealousies and insecurities prevent me from throwing myself — judgment-free — into the life of another. How, then, does my fast break down my own Eric barriers, empty me of the me-ness, and build bridges of empathy upon which all can cross?

Pope Francis, in his 2014 Lenten message, said it well: “Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty.”

Lent is a journey not to be tackled alone. A host of Busted Halo® writers have thought long and hard about their own experiences fasting — and we’ve compiled a list below. Let these insights and reflections inspire your Lenten journey.

In Defense of Lenten Sacrifice” by Lynn Freehill-Maye
If you’re up on all those Catholic trends, this scenario has probably played out during the last few Lents: You turn down a beer or dessert, explaining that you’ve given it up for these next 40 days. Your Catholic friend smiles tolerantly. “Oh, that’s nice,” she says. “Instead of giving something up, I’m actually adding a daily Bible reading.” (Click here to read more.)

Fasting from Injustice (Again)” by Caitlin Kennell Kim
This year I’m not fasting during Lent. Period. Not because I’ve given up on the concept of fasting as spiritually edifying. Not because I’m the worst faster in the long and storied history of fasting (which, by the way, I am.) Not because I have a tendency to be rebellious, defiant and stubborn (me, me and — let’s face it — me) … (Click here to read more.)

Not by Beer Alone” by Fr. Larry Rice, CSP
Last year, writer and brewing expert J. Wilson published Diary of a Part-Time Monk, which tells of his Lenten fast: subsisting on nothing but water and beer. Wilson had heard the legends of the Benedictine monks of Neudeck ob der Au, who were said to have developed a particular beer style — the doppelbock  — which is rich in carbohydrates, vitamins and calories, to sustain them through periods of Lenten fasting. (Click here to read more.)

Make Room for Jesus” by Leanna Cappiello
You might have heard the phrase during a typical Catholic high school dance. The chaperone would diligently separate hormonal teenagers on the dance floor by yelling, “Make room for Jesus!” Now, I’ve never experienced this firsthand, but the stories from my friends have stuck with me. And it has occurred to me that this phrase might help challenge us during our Lenten journeys. (Click here to read more.)

Question Box: Why do give up something for Lent?” by Neela Kale
You’re out with your friends on a Friday night and suddenly you notice that one of them has switched from his favorite microbrew to … lemonade? Is it time for Lent already? Giving up something for Lent can evoke head scratching in non-Catholics, but what might seem like just another Catholic eccentricity can actually be a practice with deep spiritual significance. (Click here to read more.)

Question Box: Should I Fast if I have an Eating Disorder?” by Mike Hayes
I have a rather odd question regarding fasting during Lent while dealing with an eating disorder. Fasting (not eating) is very easy, yet could do me more harm than good. I want to practice according to the Church’s teaching, yet I want to stay healthy. What are your thoughts? (Click here to read more.)

Question Box: Why Do Catholics only eat fish on Good Friday?” by Mike Hayes
Technically speaking, Catholics are firstly required to fast on Good Friday, meaning to eat only one full meal for the day and then to merely sustain themselves for the rest of the day — meaning two smaller meals that do not equal the one large meal. To your question, Catholics are also required to abstain from eating meat on both Good Friday and each Friday in Lent (as well as Ash Wednesday). (Click here to read more.)