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BlackLight wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am looking into becoming Catholic and have been trying to move myself toward the lifestyle.
My question deals with the Lenten tradition of fasting.

While I would like to participate in this practice, I find myself unable to do so, due to medical problems. To abstain from food for any length of time — sometimes even going the normal period between meals — is difficult. This is a permanent issue with my metabolism and blood sugar.

I am curious what kinds of alternate practices Catholics use in my situation. I know people in my situation are not expected to fast, but I would like to observe the fast days in some suitable manner in the spirit of the rules.

BlackLight

  { As a non-Catholic, how can I participate in Lenten fasting given my medical problems? }

Mike replied:

Dear BlackLight,

Thanks for the very good question.

The best person to address this type of question, would be a priest but let me share with you an answer I believe he would probably agree with.

I think it's important to step back and ask the general question:

  • What is the purpose of fasting?

The Catechism tells us:

2043 The fourth precept ("You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church") ensures the times of ascesis [or self-discipline] and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.

Catholics, and for that matter all Christians who practicing Christian fasting, who have medical issues similar to yours, have to find a happy balance that:

  • respects that your body is a temple of God, while
  • practicing some type of fasting that takes into account your situation.

As a non-Catholic, I applaud that you are trying to move yourself to a Catholic lifestyle.
The sacramental life of the Church is great and like dynamite! In my opinion, issues like
these should not interfere with becoming a Catholic.

The optimal way a situation like yours is handled is by having a regular spiritual director you go to on spiritual issues. This is a Catholic priest who has the time to get to know you and advise you based on your unique situation. I'm open to correct, but I believe, based on a person's situation, either a bishop or priest can dispense you from your obligation, or more likely, provide a substitution.

The Catechism says the following on the issue:

IV. Interior Penance

1430 Jesus' call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, "sackcloth and ashes," fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance.

1431 Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one's life, with hope in God's mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).

1432 The human heart is heavy and hardened. God must give man a new heart. Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him: "Restore us to thyself, O LORD, that we may be restored!" God gives us the strength to begin anew. It is in discovering the greatness of God's love that our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending God by sin and being separated from him. The human heart is converted by looking upon him whom our sins have pierced:

Let us fix our eyes on Christ's blood and understand how precious it is to his Father, for, poured out for our salvation it has brought to the whole world the grace of repentance.

1433 Since Easter, the Holy Spirit has proved "the world wrong about sin," i.e., proved that the world has not believed in him whom the Father has sent. But this same Spirit who brings sin to light is also the Consoler who gives the human heart grace for repentance and conversion.

V. The Many Forms Of Penance In Christian Life

1434 The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others. Alongside the radical purification brought about by Baptism or martyrdom they cite as means of obtaining forgiveness of sins: effort at reconciliation with one's neighbor, tears of repentance, concern for the salvation of one's neighbor, the intercession of the saints, and the practice of charity "which covers a multitude of sins."

1435 Conversion is accomplished in daily life by gestures of reconciliation, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice and right, by the admission of faults to one's brethren, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness. Taking up one's cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance.

1436 Eucharist and Penance. Daily conversion and penance find their source and nourishment in the Eucharist, for in it is made present the sacrifice of Christ which has reconciled us with God. Through the Eucharist those who live from the life of Christ are fed and strengthened. "It is a remedy to free us from our daily faults and to preserve us from mortal sins."

1437 Reading Sacred Scripture, praying the Liturgy of the Hours and the Our Father - every sincere act of worship or devotion revives the spirit of conversion and repentance within us and contributes to the forgiveness of our sins.

1438 The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church's penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works).

1439 The process of conversion and repentance was described by Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son, the center of which is the merciful father: the fascination of illusory freedom, the abandonment of the father's house; the extreme misery in which the son finds himself after squandering his fortune; his deep humiliation at finding himself obliged to feed swine, and still worse, at wanting to feed on the husks the pigs ate; his reflection on all he has lost; his repentance and decision to declare himself guilty before his father; the journey back; the father's generous welcome; the father's joy - all these are characteristic of the process of conversion. The beautiful robe, the ring, and the festive banquet are symbols of that new life - pure worthy, and joyful - of anyone who returns to God and to the bosom of his family, which is the Church. Only the heart of Christ who knows the depths of his Father's love could reveal to us the abyss of his mercy in so simple and beautiful a way.

Seeing that you wish to go deeper, consider buying a cheap copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to learn everything we believe as Catholics.

Hope this helps,

Mike

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