Fasting and Sacrifice

The first Friday of Lent. I immediately think of fasting and recall the numerous tuna casseroles, fish sticks, and creamed peas on toast served for the Friday dinners of my youth. I really hate canned tuna fish and canned peas. I secretly hoped my Mom would send the meal that the rest of my family seemed to enjoy, to the kids that didn’t have enough food, even though I knew it would be spoiled before it could get to them and I would go to bed hungry. I couldn’t wrap my elementary school brain around the concept of why we fast and what that had to do with Church. Church happens on Sunday, silly.  Ah, the focus and ideals of youth.

The readings today both speak of fasting. Does my fasting end in quarreling and fighting? Am I snippy with others because I’ve skipped a meal as part of my fast and my blood sugar starts crashing? I don’t believe this type of physical fasting is the kind of sacrifice God truly wants from me. So then what is it that God is calling me to fast from this Lent?

I want my fast to be pleasing to the Lord. Pope Francis has some thought-provoking words in his annual message for Lent 2018 about keeping our hearts from becoming cold. He uses Dante’s description of hell to compare our cold heart to, “the devil seated on a throne of ice in frozen and loveless desolation.” Yikes! Definitely not who I want to become! There are also a few things from our Holy Father’s words that have me taking a look at how I can fast on a deeper level.

  • Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
  • Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
  • Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
  • Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
  • Fast from worries and have trust in God.
  • Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
  • Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
  • Fast from bitterness and fill your hearts with joy.
  • Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
  • Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
  • Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.

These are very realistic ways for me to fast, however challenging they may be when you take a second or third read through them. Lent, during the two-year process of separation and divorce from my former husband, was extremely painful. I tried to fast from making negative comments about our situation. I tried to fast from hurtful words and bitterness. It was a struggle. I joined the choir at my parish to lift my brokenness to God in song during Lent. I cantor to make sure I go to Mass on Sunday and be nourished with the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I do these things because I cannot survive on my own. I need the love outpoured in the Eucharistic sacrifice. Jesus so loved me, a sinner, that He gave His life for my redemption; for your redemption.  

Fr Thaddaeus Lancton wrote a beautiful reflection on “The Secret of Lent”.  He speaks about looking at Lent in the example of St. Faustina; how we can please the Lord by obedience.

He says:

“When St. Faustina asked her superior…. for permission to fast, it was denied due to her poor health. Instead, she was told to meditate upon the Passion — particularly how Jesus accepted vinegar and gall — while eating. As St. Faustina wrote: ‘The benefit is that I am meditating constantly on His sorrowful Passion and so, while I am eating, I am not preoccupied with what I am eating, but am reflecting on my Lord’s death’ (Diary, 618).

The goal of Lent is not simply self-improvement or adding to resolutions. Rather, as St. Faustina learned, it is a time to be conformed to Christ in His Passion, so that we might share, too, in His glory (see Diary, 446). Let us desire, then, to be obedient to Jesus, for our salvation came about through His obedience, and we receive the grace of our salvation through our obedience to Him.”

Bishop David L. Ricken offers another reflection in 10 Things to Remember for Lent. My Lenten offering will include praying for at least one person per day, whom I do not know. I will try to fast from words so I can be silent to listen to the Lord in those around me and through the mundane situations and routines that make up my life. I will try to attend daily Mass 3 time per week. What is God calling you to do?

Beth Price is a Secular Franciscan (OFS) and spiritual director who has worked in several  parish ministry roles during the last 20 years. She is a proud mother of 3 adult children. Beth currently works at Diocesan.