Lent is the 40 day period before Easter in which Catholics fast and try to become more aware of the areas of sin in their lives. In this way we imitate Jesus, who spent 40 days in the desert without food; Jesus knew Satan would appear to tempt him, so he strengthened himself first by fasting. At the end of the 40 days, the tempter came and promised Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence” Matthew 4. Weakened as he was by the heat and lack of nourishment, Jesus carelessly admonished Satan to “get away”, reminding him “The Lord, your God shall you worship, and him alone shall you serve”.
(And we Catholics think it’s really hard to simply fast from meat on Fridays)! During Lent we’re supposed to have one main meal, with two smaller, simpler ones. The tradition in the Byzantine Rite is even more severe, as many give up both meat and dairy the entire 40 days of Lent.
We all face temptations to sin; we may be tempted to lie about our mistakes, we may be tempted to spend too much time and money shopping, some drink too much wine. And with the internet and lewd images on TV, it’s hard to fight the temptation to peek at tantalizing images on the screen. So fasting helps us fight those temptations that lead us astray. And remember God’s promise in 1 Corin. 10:13 “No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it”.
Why should we fast? Our motivation shouldn’t be to lose weight. Instead, our purpose should be more self-sacrificing; we should offer up our fasting as a means to become more loving and compassionate, to grow in holiness, and for the benefit of the poor, the oppressed, and for the conversion of friends and family. Self-denial increases the virtue of self-control, and aids us in detaching from the allurements of the world.
Our passions can overtake us, but by fasting we are giving God a bigger place in our heart, and allowing him to perform miracles and extraordinary wonders. Fasting empowers us, allowing the Holy Spirit to operate more fully within us, helping us to grow in holiness, making our prayers more effective. By drawing away temporarily from the pleasures of the world, such as a juicy cheeseburger and crisp french fries, and eating more simply, we draw closer to Christ, and deepen our intimacy with him.
We all have people in our lives in need of God’s healing and deliverance; you may have a loved one who struggles daily with a drug addiction or alcoholism. Or perhaps you have a friend who was abused as a child and tries to cope with depression and anxiety. You might know a woman who had an abortion, and simply can’t accept God’s all encompassing mercy and compassion. I’m sure we’re all aware of the evil surrounding us in every facet of our lives; fasting is a mighty weapon in our arsenal to fight greed, arrogance, selfishness and violence.
During Lent we are called to do penance, and try to atone for our sins. Instead of simply abstaining from chocolate or coffee, it is more beneficial to forgo anger or pride. Also popular in deciding what to “give up” for Lent, many refrain from television, video games, or Facebook, and instead devote more time to prayer, such as daily mass, or praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Another way to do penance is by volunteering at your local homeless shelter or offering to babysit your neighbor’s children.