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Lenten Fasting – Is it the one that the Father has chosen?

Lent started this week, and with it countless Catholics began the fasting requirements dictated by the Roman Catholic Church. “What are you giving up for lent” is often asked this time of year among Catholics. On no less than that national model of religious programming, Mike And Mike in the Morning, a significant portion of the show was dedicated to Mike Greenberg leading a decision making session on what Mike Golic should give up for Lent. While being respectful of Golic’s religion there was some tongue in cheek at some of the suggestions offered by fans and staff. What was decided eventually was that Mike Golic would give up wearing polo shirts. Along the way was the discussion of giving up everythings from sweets to not being mean to his co-host. Another analyst on the show, Tim Legler, announced he was giving up being so hard on the refs in his youngster’s basketball league where he coaches.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sports fan, enjoy the show on a regular basis, and everything was done in good taste. But it exemplifies the tone of fasting during Lent by participants. Here are a couple of well to do sports analysts and their sacrifices are to wear a different kind of shirt for one and to not abuse the refs for the other.

Is this the fast God has chosen? In ancient times many religious Jews gave up eating, sat on sackcloth and ashes, and otherwise deprived themselves in the name of God. The Book of Isaiah is very critical on this practice. Look at the record as the Israelites ask God why he has not honored their fasting:

“They say, Why have we fasted, and You do not see? Why have we afflicted our soul, and You take no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and crush all your laborers.
Behold, you fast for strife and debate, and to strike with the fist of wickedness; you shall not fast as you do today, to make your voice to be heard on high.
Is it such a fast that I have chosen? A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast and a day pleasing to Jehovah?
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed ones go free, and that you break every yoke?
Is it not to break your bread to the hungry, and that you should bring home the wandering poor? When will you see the naked and cover him; and you will not hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break out as the dawn, and your health shall spring out quickly; and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of Jehovah shall gather you.
Then you shall call, and Jehovah shall answer; you shall cry, and He shall say, Here I am. If you take the yoke away from among you, the pointing of the finger, and speaking vanity;” Isaiah 58:4-8 MKJV

The fast God chooses is to feed the hungry, bring home the wandering poor, clothe the naked, to break the bonds of wickedness on men, to do the work of the Lord. Giving up meats, candy, kinds of clothing or other practices are not the fast God has chosen.

Incidentally, while I do not agree with all the abstinence that the Roman Catholic Church promotes they do encourage the right kind of fasting. Look the requirement of the church:

The Roman Catholic Churches requirements for Lenten fasting include abstaing from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all the Fridays of Lent. Additionally, it “means partaking of only one full meal. Some food (not equaling another full meal) is permitted at breakfast and around midday or in the evening—depending on when a person chooses to eat the main or full meal.”1 Beyond that, “The Code of Canon Law and our bishops remind us of other works and means of doing penance: prayer, acts of self-denial, almsgiving and works of personal charity. Attending Mass daily or several times a week, praying the rosary, making the way of the cross, attending the parish evening prayer service, teaching the illiterate to read, reading to the blind, helping at a soup kitchen, visiting the sick and shut-ins and giving an overworked mother a break by baby-sitting—all of these can be even more meaningful and demanding than simply abstaining from meat on Friday.”2

Once you get past all the abstaining from meats and other forms of self-denial you get to the kinds of fasting Isaiah talks about with the examples of “teaching the illiterate to read, reading to the blind, helping at a soup kitchen, visiting the sick and shut-ins and giving an overworked mother a break by baby-sitting—all of these can be even more meaningful and demanding than simply abstaining from meat on Friday.”

If you want to really fast the way the Father wants, then the thing to do is these latter items. That is not to say that giving up candy and those other items won’t be good for your self-control, and may be something you should be doing anyway. They are just not fasting the Lord’s way.

1. http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Lent/faqle9902.asp
2 ibid

Mark W Smith © 2009

March 1st, 2009 Posted by | Roman Catholicism | no comments

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