Give your fasting a new face this lent
Tina, a seven-year-old was preparing for her First Holy Communion and asked me the following question. "When I get older, am I supposed to fast?" I said, "Yes." Then she looked at me quizzically and said, "What is it?" This is surely a question many people, besides Tina, ponder these days as Lent arrives. What does it mean to fast in today’s Church? And, in today's parlance--is it in or out?
Well, to be clear, first of all, we still fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. However, in today’s Church fasting is more than counting how many sandwiches we eat on a fast day, or how many cups of coffee are too many.
Instead, perhaps, we can use the Lenten practice of Fasting to look at personal areas that need attention. You know those places--the ones that we're going “to get around to fixing”--like laziness or impatience, but for some reason, or excuse we never do.
Lent is the perfect time to focus on that “fixing!” And Fasting becomes the “how” of that fixing. The twist is we change fasting from “taking away” something like eating chocolate, to a “building up” of some aspect of our personal life like prayer worn down from neglect. Fasting, then, is our determination to stop neglecting; and, to do some needed "spring-cleaning!"
Areas for consideration can be any of the following personal concerns. We can fast by restraining from too quickly sharing our own opinions and listening more to what others think and say. We can fast by healing long held hurts, by showing others mercy and forgiveness. We can fast by toning down the anxieties we often feel, and learn to trust more in the Lord’s gift of nearness. We can reduce our need for more “things” and share “our extras” with those around us who have far less than we.
In these little ways, our fasting can change our bad habits into helpful virtues, making us stronger internally. St. Francis de Sales agrees that the best change we can make is first and foremost within our interior. Thus, our fasting this Lent can become that useful way to make a needed change within.
As DeSales writes:
"For myself...I can never approve the method of those who begin by the exterior such as bearing, the dress or the hair to reform a person by beginning with external things. On the contrary, it seems to me that we should begin by the interior: ‘Convert yourself to me with your whole heart.’ ” (Jl 2:12)