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Caitlin wrote:

Dear Mike,

I would like to fast next Lent and I was wondering how. I know I cannot go 40 days with absolutely no food.

Please help.

Caitlin

  { How should I fast for Lent when I know I cannot go 40 days without food? }

Mike replied:

Dear Caitlin —

Fasting disciplines will vary from person to person because each person is different.

Although I believe there is no specific definition for fasting in Canon Law, most dioceses use the following one:


FASTING: Everyone 18 years old but not yet 60 is bound to the law of fasting.
Fasting means having only one full meal a day sufficient to maintain one's strength.
Two other meatless meals are allowed but are to be penitential and light.


Some can do with less when dealing with the issue of how much to fast, and that is great ... as long as a spirit of prudence and practicality is used. I believe even the great saints of the Church fasted in accordance with what their spiritual advisor suggested.

We have to make sure pride does not enter into our reasons to do an extra long fasting or we can end up fasting for the wrong reason. We are temples of God, and we don't want to hurt ourselves by ultra fasting.

Nevertheless, for those that are able, we should strive for something more than, what I call,
the MLR, Minimum Lenten Requirement.

This is where I sometimes struggle. :)

I hope this helps,

Mike

Eric replied:

Hi Caitlin,

I have some additional comments to add to Mike's on this topic.

First: Yes, you will, in all likelihood, die if you fast forty days straight without food. Don't even try. Even more limiting forms of fasting can be health threatening. I got into big trouble getting too zealous with my fasting. Be very careful, which leads me to my second point ...

Second: If you are serious about this, find a spiritual director, and absolutely obey him (or her).

Third: Start small. Fasting isn't limited to zero food intake. Maybe start with not snacking between meals and/or eating less than it takes to make you feel full or satisfied. Then perhaps go to one meal a day on Fridays, then on Fridays and Wednesdays, then on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Tradition forbids fasting on Sunday, by the way, since that is the day Christ rose from the dead.

You can also throw abstinence into the mix. Despite popular perception, the faithful are still asked to abstain from meat all Fridays throughout the year (it's just not binding under pain of mortal sin anymore). Again, you can do Fridays, or Wednesdays and Fridays (Wednesday being the day Christ was betrayed), or Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, or every day, but do introduce it gradually. If you really want to be zealous — again consult your spiritual director — the Eastern tradition (much of which was followed in the West as well, many years ago) is no meat, fish, dairy, alcohol, or (among the Greeks) olive oil. Basically, no animal products at all.

It's important to keep in mind the goal of fasting, best expressed by St. Paul:

"27 I beat my body and make it my slave, so that after having preached to others,
I myself may not be disqualified."

1 Corinthians 9:27

The point is to reign in the disordered desires of the body, and practice self-control over the passions. (emotions and feelings) Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with hunger, but two points are:

  • that we often "desire" to eat that which we do not strictly need, and
  • when we exercise control and discipline over one passion, we gain more control over other passions as well.

Again, St. Paul says just prior to that verse above:

"24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever."

1 Corinthians 9:24-25

Fasting is the "strict training" we go through to gain the crown.

Finally, I'd like to underscore what Mike says:

Always be on guard against the mortal enemy of the ascetic, pride. Again, this is where your spiritual director comes in.

For now, remember we are celebrating Easter, and there is no fasting during the Easter season (which lasts until Pentecost).

Hope this helps.

Yours in Christ,

Eric

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