Holy Week 2014

Fasting and Abstinence

It is my third year in writing for Holy Week. This time, I’d like to devote a blog post on the practice of fasting and abstinence that Christians observe especially during Lenten season.

So why bring up this topic? For the past couple of weeks, my daughter together with a couple of her friends made the following commitment during Lent:

  • Not using social media i.e. no logins, posts, or likes;
  • Abstaining from meat during Fridays;
  • Abstaining from eating rice or chocolates, etc.

I actually admire their dedication and ability to follow-through with their promise. First, allow me to give a background on how we came to observe this tradition using excerpts from Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) before we delve any further into the discussion.

Jesus’ Temptations (CCC 538 – 540)
The Gospels speak of a time of solitude for Jesus in the desert immediately after his baptism by John. Driven by the Spirit into the desert, Jesus remains there for forty days without eating; he lives among the wild beasts, and angels minister to him…

By the solemn forty days of Lent, the church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.

I’ve also read that fasting and/or abstaining from meat has health benefits. This is why we have seen the popularity of vegetarian diet and vegan as alternative lifestyle. Although, this is beyond the scope of this article — one of the example in the Bible was the story when Daniel and his companions were captured by Babylonians.

11But Daniel said to the overseer whom the commander of the officials had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah,
12“Please test your servants for ten days, and let us be given some vegetables to eat and water to drink.
13“Then let our appearance be observed in your presence and the appearance of the youths who are eating the king’s choice food; and deal with your servants according to what you see.”…

More importantly, for some the observance of abstinence may not necessarily be a sacrifice —

  • Those who live in the coastal areas have fish as their staple food;
    Eating no meat on Fridays, then, is less meaningful since that is the norm for them.
  • People who maybe in the line of work (such as computers or media) may not necessarily abstain from using certain things in their work.
  • For some people, one may abstain from doing one thing or eating a certain food but still consume themselves in something else.

What then is a “proper” fast and abstinence? It all boils down to the purpose and why we want to observe this year after year.

  • Are you doing it to please yourself or someone?
  • Are you doing this to practice some ritual handed over through generations?, or
  • Do you have the right intentions why you would like to fast and abstain from such material things in life?

Fasting allows us to abstain from our worldly wants, strengthens our spiritual nature, and exhibits humility to God who is above all things as mentioned in the Catechism.

Fourth Precept of the Church (CCC 2043)
Fasting and abstinence … helps us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.

This reminded me of the Bible verse in Hosea and quoted in the Gospels on how God wants love rather than an act of sacrifice.

Hosea 6:6 English Standard Version

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

My earnest hope is that somehow, this article would allow you to better reflect on why you would like to observe this beautiful tradition as I leave you with Bible Gateway’s audio reading of what not to do when fasting and praying.

Matthew 6:16-18


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