Fasting is actually one of the most universal religious experiences. Most religions that can trace their origins past the "AD" mark in history books have some sort of fasting as part of their tenants; Islam, Judaism, even Buddhism recognizes the danger in becoming too focused on physical wants and needs.
Catholic fasting may seem silly, why can we eat fish but not red meat? What is the significance of choosing a fillet o' fish over a Big Mac for a few Fridays? Well, first of all that, isn't actually fasting! The Church asks to fast only on Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday, but we are welcome to extend that to every Friday during Lent if we see fit. We are also supposed to practice an hour fast before attending Mass if we plan to receive Holy Communion.
Abstinence is what we practice on Fridays during Lent, choosing to abstain from meat. This practice is less about "why meat?" and more about what it represents. When we abstain or fast, the practice is intended to help us reflect on several things including preparation for God in the Eucharist and in our daily lives, a means of self-discipline, and a symbolic abstinence from sin. If we can give up meat for a day, surely we can overcome our sinful natures little by little!
Today's Gospel is a short one, (you can read it here) but it brings forth an important concept that is critical to our own Lenten journey this season. Sure, the Pharisees and scribes fast, but their fasting is for earthly, rather than spiritual purposes. Jesus, the bridegroom in his parable, is informing John's disciples that there is more to life than the rules of the Jewish culture. Similarly, our fasting does us no good if we are not using it as an opportunity to seek God. So as you look at your fishy meal, which may or may not be your first choice of food, pray for before you eat. Use your abstinence from meat as a reminder to thank God for the meal that has been given to you and for the strength to abstain from a meal you prefer more. Finally, share one of your meals today with a family member or friend, give them time and attention as you break bread together, making an effort to put aside electronics and share a meal.
Pray before you eat today, fast from meat as the Church asks us today, and give time to a loved one. Pray, fast, and give intentionally.
Please like, comment, and share with your faith community! Many of our friends have left social media for the Lenten season, but that is no reason to not text them the link and invite them to join us on our Mindful Lenten Journey.