Sunday, July 17, 2016

Why Fast?


On January 1, 2016, I began observing Fridays as a special day of fasting and prayer.  By fasting, I mean what I think of as a "church fast," something like what you would do on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday:  I start the day with a cup of black coffee, then just water for the rest of the day, and a light, meatless meal in the evening, no snacks or alchohol.  

I was moved to do this after I wrote out an account of my path to conversion to Catholicism for my pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, when I returned to the Church after a 20-year absence. Since he would be my confessor, I wanted him to understand where I had been in my life, and how God had acted to rescue me.  When I saw the full story of how sinful I had been prior to becoming a Catholic, I was filled with regret and remorse, and wanted to somehow express to God how truly sorry I was for the years I spent unknowingly offending him, and how grateful I am to have found faith and the Church.

When I first thought of doing this, in my mind, it seemed like kind of an old-fashioned, even "medieval" thing to do.  I did not know anyone who did this in the current era.  However, when I investigated fasting on the internet out of curiosity about the custom, I discovered, to my amazement, that the contemporay Church still formally encourages Catholics to engage in such practices.  

23. Friday should be in each week something of what Lent is in the entire year. For this reason we urge all to prepare for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday by freely making of every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ.
Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence : A Statement Issued by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops November 18, 1966
I found that fasting is not terribly difficult: I am able to carry on all my normal activities. The biggest problem I had was simply remembering not to eat!  I became aware that I had been eating mindlessly for my entire life, and when I researched gluttony as viewed in Catholic teaching, I learned that I had been committing the sin of gluttony every day, by eating recreationally, when I was not actually hungry!  This was quite a revelation, and it made me change my eating habits considerably.  I no longer bother buying snack foods at the grocery store, because I don't have room for them in my eating, since--when I am hungry--I need to eat something which is actually good for me and which will really assuage hunger.

Because I am striving to make it a special day dedicated to God, I begin the day with Mass at OLPH.  Until my parents became more fragile, I was able to stay at the church after Mass as long as I wanted, to read and pray.  Now, sadly, I have to rush home immediately afterward so that I can be the one to take food to the outdoor cats, since I don't want either of my parents walking down that grassy slope toward the gazebo (our cat feeding station), because I am afraid of them falling.  This adds to the penance of the day, for sure, because I loved being able to stay after Mass.  However, all is as God ordains, I fully believe.  In any event, I try to minimize my time away from home that day so that I can spend extra time praying and doing spiritual reading.

I can't say it has had a dramatic effect on my life, but I am still doing it, and I find now that I actually look forward to it, even though there are parts of the day when I am really hungry and don't feel all that well.  When those periods come, I try to remember why I am doing it, and offer my very slight discomfort to God as my offering to Him.  Although I know that all my past sins have been completely forgiven through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Church teaches that...

Sin has two consequences, or punishments (CCC 1472). The first is eternal punishment, in which the soul loses heaven and is confined to an eternity in hell. This punishment is remitted through the forgiveness of sins. The second is temporal punishment, in which a person must expiate, or make reparation for his sins. This temporal punishment remains even after sin is forgiven. Some examples include Adam and Eve getting thrown out of Paradise when they ate the forbidden fruit (Genesis), and the Israelites losing the privilege of seeing the Promised Land because they worshiped the golden bull (Exodus). Unlike eternal punishment, temporal punishment remains only for the period of time it takes for the expiation of one's sins. Temporal punishment is God's method of loving discipline: "Do not disdain the discipline of the Lord . . . for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he receives" (Heb. 12:5).

How does one expiate his sins? The Catholic Church has traditionally identified three major ways–prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Any good work or sacrifice expiates sin, as well as patiently bearing our sufferings and offering them up in satisfaction for our sins (CCC 1459-1460). We may also take it upon ourselves to do voluntary penance. Some saints have done austere penances in satisfaction for their sins, such as sleeping on bare boards, dressing scantily in cold weather, self-flagellation, and wearing a hairshirt or a necklace made of jagged items to irritate the skin. Although efficacious, most Christians should strive to follow the penitential spirit of the saints while performing penances suitable to them.

Although some people who are aware that I do this think it is excessive, or that I must be scrupulous, I don't accept that judgment, and I intend to continue this practice as long as I am physically able to do so.   +

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