“Fasting and Abstaining”
When I attended Catholic elementary school in the 1960s, the nuns were always telling us to “offer it up.” What they meant was that by doing little acts of penance or suffering through hardship without complaint, we could help someone else who was suffering. In other words, God would accept our “offering” and reduce another person’s suffering accordingly.
During Lent, the Church asks us to abstain from meat on Fridays and to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The tradition of not eating meat on Friday started in the first century. The idea behind it is that since Jesus sacrificed his flesh for our sins on a Friday, we would sacrifice by not eating the flesh of any animals on that day of the week. We recognize and show appreciation for Jesus’ sacrifice by making a small sacrifice in return.
Occurrences of fasting from food and drink can be found throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament, fasting was usually performed to show repentance for wrongdoing and an intention to change one’s way of life. In the New Testament, Jesus fasted in the desert as a means of purifying and strengthening himself for his upcoming mission. He also tells the apostles that they were unable to cure a person possessed by an unclean spirit because “that kind only comes out through prayer and fasting.”
Fasting and abstinence are not just unpleasant requirements placed on us by the Church. They are powerful and effective ways to subdue our flesh and energize our spirits. They are a means to show appreciation for the selfless, loving gift of redemption achieved by Jesus on the cross. They are also something that can be “offered up” to decrease the suffering of another.
There are two weeks left in Lent. Let us embrace fasting and abstinence for these two weeks with the same love and devotion with which Jesus embraced the cross for each of us.