By Frank Wessling
Most of us enjoy feasting but almost no one enjoys fasting. Yet one makes the other much more satisfying.
In other words, if we follow the Church’s discipline of fasting during Lent, we have the benefit of more joy in our feasts. That includes the Sundays of Lent. We look forward to the great Easter feast, of course, but every Sunday is a little Easter and meant to be a celebration of life.
The Church has specific rules about fasting and about abstinence from meat on certain days during Lent. Those rules themselves aren’t what contribute to our salvation. Their spirit is what we need to take in.
They remind us that our bodies, our appetites, our habits of taking, consuming and grooming, all of what we do for self-satisfaction, is secondary. This is heresy in the modern economy, so we seldom use such blunt language. The truth is that real fasting wrenches us away from common ways and habits, so it hurts, not only personally but also in ways that affect our societies.
Take smoking as an example. Every smoker knows what a powerful habit it is and how hard to give up. When it’s done anyway and the struggle is forgotten, the smoker may be feasting on fresh air while the bottom line at some tobacco company is smaller. Multiplied by many people who begin by fasting from tobacco and profound changes begin to ripple across a society. A feast of fresh air is broadly shared and newly valued while a threat to health is diminished.
The meaning of feast is not in fine food and drink. It’s the sharing of goods and the building of relationships that make a feast. It’s life as spirit, not as stomach, where joy is found. It’s taking pleasure in the growth of spirit all around, as parents find pleasure in the healthy development of their children, which happens from the parents sacrificing — aka fasting from — their own short-term self-satisfaction.
So we fast in order to feast better; we sacrifice now in order to see a better future. In the terms used by Jesus, we abandon self in order to experience God.
So much of life is a leap of faith. We’re given the season of Lent to practice fasting so that we understand in our bones how life really is and how it becomes good. We have the freedom to do this in whatever way makes the most sense personally, but it has to be done. So leap into the purifying game.
Cut some of the sugar out of your life. Cut the idle chatter so there’s time for thinking and listening and praying. Cut the texting habit. Cut the bad language. Give away the clothing you aren’t using. Be careful about wasting food.
Pick up your clothes. Speak a good word. Call the person who’s down. Eat slowly so food can be appreciated. Feel gratitude for small things. Pay attention throughout Mass and respond with feeling.
Think of your ultimate end. Prepare so that it can be good, like a feast.