The holy season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2010. How will we observe this time of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting?
The Church requires a minimal response. Those of us who are 18 but not yet 60 years of age fast on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent. That means to eat only one full meal and two lesser meals, with nothing in between meals. And on those same days, those of us who are 14 years of age and older abstain from eating meat.
Fasting and abstaining are examples of self-denial. There is value in doing them for their own sakes; there is a health benefit from fasting and not eating meat products.
Moreover, there is a spiritual benefit to obeying the laws of the Church, such as deepening our humility.
There are perhaps other motivations for practicing some form of self-denial, like fasting and abstaining.
For example, self-denial is connected to other people, especially those who lack the comforts of life or those things needed to live in human dignity. We voluntarily undergo discomforts in order to be able to comfort others. Or we see that we have things not only for our own comfort but also to share with others, to comfort others.
Related to this notion is practicing self-denial in order to curb our appetite for a selfish indulgence of comforts. As Jesus taught, “is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6: 25). Self-denial is a program for freedom; we are not ruled by our bodily appetites, but rather ruled by love of God and neighbor.
Also, self-denial is a way to imitate and follow Jesus: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). To follow Jesus’ example of service and sacrifice, and to take up the cross of forgiveness, no matter who, no matter what, requires us to mortify our selfishness, self-pity, and self-centeredness. That is usually harder than giving up cigarettes or Twinkies.
Finally, any and all of our religious practices, like almsgiving, prayer, and fasting are companions of love, the heart of the practice of our faith. Without love, shown concretely to God and neighbor, we might give away everything we own, or spend the day in prayer, or mortify completely our bodily appetites, but gain nothing (see 1 Corinthians 13).
How will we observe this time of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting?
The original story can be found at the Catholic Advance.