The Fasting God Wishes

One of the traditional Lenten observances is fasting. Although the only days on which Catholics are obligated to fast is on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the practice is encouraged throughout Lent.

For many of us who grew up Catholic, our childhood fasting during Lent took the form of giving up some favorite food item – chocolate was a common thing to give up during Lent, as was soft drinks, or if one wanted to go all the way – all desserts. The practice of giving up something for Lent is, of course, not limited to children; one of my friends often gives up beer for Lent.

The first Mass reading for today, from Isaiah, suggests that we may be letting ourselves off the hook too easily if that is all we mean by fasting. The Lord might say as easily to us as He did to the people of Israel,

Do you call this a fast 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.

I’m not saying we should not find things to give up during Lent. But we should think carefully about what we are fasting from, and what kind of fasting does greatest honor to God.

Many people participate in rice bowl projects during Lent. Our variation at the law school is a bread and water fast. On Fridays during Lent we are providing bread (sponsored by different student organizations) for students who wish to participate to have for their lunch that day. They are asked to donate what they would have spent on lunch to a fund that will then be donated to a local food bank. That’s one way of “sharing your bread with the hungry.” Doubtless there are many, many others. So ponder the words of Isaiah and think about what kind of Lenten fast would be “acceptable to the Lord.”