The purpose of fasting

| Father Charles Lachowitzer | February 22, 2018 | 2 Comments
Father Charles Lachowitzer

Father Charles Lachowitzer

Our Gospel from Ash Wednesday (Mt 6:1–6;16–18) reminded us that our disciplines in the Lenten season are not public displays. For example, if I gave up chocolate-covered rutabagas, then it should not be a cause of suffering for those around me — all those who have to hear about how difficult my sacrifice is and how I am counting the days before Easter.

More importantly, the Lenten disciplines of almsgiving (as an act of mercy), fasting and prayer are not to be separated. My fasting should be connected to my prayers and my almsgiving. To continue my ridiculous example, if it takes me three minutes to eat my bowl of chocolate-covered rutabagas, and I eat them every day, then three minutes times 40 days equals 120 minutes — two hours of time to add to my Lenten prayers. So too, I can add up the cost of those delicious bowls of rutabagas drowned in chocolate and contribute that money as almsgiving.

The whole purpose of this tripod of Lenten disciplines is to open my mind and heart to ongoing conversion and the deepening of my spiritual life. When I fast, for example, it is also helpful to pray for all those who go without food, and connect my almsgiving to local, national and global efforts by the Church to feed the hungry and serve those most in need.

If the sum total of my Lenten experience is giving up some treat, where is the conversion? Where is the deepening of my relationship with Jesus Christ?

I remember one parish that provided an opportunity for all three disciplines every Friday in Lent. There was a simple soup supper followed by an hour in prayer, including Stations of the Cross, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and closing Benediction. The soup supper was free, but people were encouraged to make a free-will offering for a designated local charity. Others contributed their hourly wage for the entire time they spent in church on Friday evenings. What the experience did was to connect fasting, almsgiving and prayer.

As a child, I would receive 25 cents a week for my allowance. Five nickels. One always went in my regular Sunday envelope, and during the Sundays of Lent, another nickel went into the poor box at church.

I didn’t know then that I was far exceeding a tithe. I didn’t know then to connect my extra nickel to whatever I gave up for Lent.

As an adult, I discovered the Scripture readings at daily and Sunday Masses as well as the graces of the sacraments, particularly reconciliation. My Lenten season expanded through retreats, parish missions and prayers to support those adults who are coming into the Catholic Church at Easter through the sacraments of initiation.

The season of Lent does not depend solely on my fasting, almsgiving and prayer. Everything during Lent that I do or fail to do brings me inevitably to the cross of Good Friday, where I humbly acknowledge that all human efforts seem helpless in the face of suffering and death. My only recourse is to turn to Jesus. It is the hand of the Risen Christ who lifts me up from the foot of the cross and leads me to the joy of Easter — a joy made all the more real because I have taken the time during the Lenten season to connect and give spiritual depth to fasting, almsgiving and prayer.

From a sermon by St. Peter Chrysologus, a fifth-century bishop of Ravenna, Italy: “Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: These three are one, and they give life to each other. … Therefore, let prayer, mercy and fasting be one single plea to God on our behalf, one speech in our defense, a threefold united prayer in our favor.”

El ayuno tiene un propósito

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Category: Only Jesus