Lenten Fast

Fasting is one of the traditional Lenten practices, along with prayer and almsgiving.  The Catholic rules on fasting are not horribly onerous – abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent, and fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday – “fast” defined as one meal plus two small meals that together are less than a full meal.  I don’t discourage anyone from following those rules, but I do think we can go beyond them.

The early Christian mystic John Chrysostom said, “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”
You might keep his advice in mind as you consider your Lenten fast.  To give the same advice in poetic form, here is Robert Herrick’s poem, Lent.

Is this a fast, to keep
The larder lean ?
And clean
From fat of veals and sheep ?

Is it to quit the dish
Of flesh, yet still
To fill
The platter high with fish ?

Is it to fast an hour,
Or ragg’d to go,
Or show
A downcast look and sour ?

No ;  ‘tis a fast to dole
Thy sheaf of wheat,
And meat,
Unto the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife,
From old debate
And hate ;
To circumcise thy life.

To show a heart grief-rent ;
To starve thy sin,
Not bin ;
And that’s to keep thy Lent.