Thursday, February 26, 2009

This Is the Manner of Fasting I Wish

February 27, 2009

Friday after Ash Wednesday

By Melanie Rigney

Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: That a man bow his head like a reed and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. (Isaiah 58: 5-7)

For you do not desire sacrifice; a burnt offering you would not accept. My sacrifice, God, is a broken spirit; God, do not spurn a broken, humbled heart. (Psalms 51:18-19)

The disciples of John approached Jesus and said, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?" Jesus answered them, "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast." (Matthew 9:14-15)


Jesus, as we observe the final days of your ministry here on earth, help us to understand and commit to the sacrifices that are pleasing to you and your Father.


Lenten Fast and Abstinence Rules (

No meat on Fridays during Lent if you’re over the age of fourteen.


Fasting on Fridays during Lent if you’re between the ages of eighteen and fifty-nine, fasting to mean one regular meal and two smaller meals with no eating between meals.


And so, Catholic card punched, we feel we’ve done what we’re supposed to do. We’ve followed the rules. Our stomachs growl a little, and maybe we whine a bit to our friends or group reunion about having to restrict our diets on Fridays.

Why do we do it?

An article at EWTN on these practices( states:

It is a traditional doctrine of Christian spirituality that a constituent part of repentance, of turning away from sin and back to God, includes some form of penance, without which the Christian is unlikely to remain on the narrow path and be saved.

In his Lenten message this year, Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged that the practice of fasting “seems to have lost some of its spiritual meaning,” then goes on to call it “a ‘therapy’ to heal all that prevents (believers) from conformity to the will of God.” (

The pope goes on to explain that fasting helps us to grow in intimacy with God—and in understanding of the situation of so many in the world. “By freely embracing an act of self-denial for the sake of another, we make a statement that our brother or sister in need is not a stranger,” he says. This view strongly reflects today’s first reading, in which the Lord directs us that fasting includes feeding and clothing and helping others, not simply putting on sackcloth.

And the psalmist’s message of a humbled heart echoes in the pope’s comment that “freely chosen detachment from the pleasure of food and other material goods helps the disciple of Christ to control the appetites of nature, weakened by original sin, whose negative effects impact the entire person.”

While rote fasting and abstinence may meet the word of the Catechism, today’s reading calls for a mindful observance, not simply going without meat or cutting back calories every Friday during Lent. As an ancient hymn of the Lenten liturgy cited by the pope says: “Let us use sparingly words, food and drink, sleep and amusement. May we be more alert in the custody of our senses.”


As you eat your smaller breakfast, lunch, or dinner, consider three ways in which you can be more alert in the custody of your senses.

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