Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Tag Archives: Fasting

Books and the Lenten Journey

ash-wednesday-scripture-5Happy Ash Wednesday! Last evening my family celebrated Shrove Tuesday by having breakfast for dinner.  I must say that Hannah’s King’s Cake stole the show again this year.

As usual, there are always questions about fasting and abstinence once we enter Lent. Here is an abstinence explanation, “What’s Up with the Whole Friday Abstinence Thing?” for the studious out there. Fasting has also been part of our blessed Tradition. Here is a quick explanation on the why of fasting, “Vivifying our Spiritual Senses.”

I have also received a number of requests concerning some of my favorites books for Lent. So, I thought that I would list out a few books that have been helpful during my Lenten meditation and retreat:

  1. The Sadness of Christ – St. Thomas More
  2. Lukewarmness: The Devil in Disguise – Francis Fernandez Carvajal
  3. The Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell – Fr. Martin von Cochem
  4. Unseen Warfare – Lorenzo Scupoli, Theophan the Recluse and Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain
  5. In Silence with God – Fr. Benedict Baur
  6. A Doctor at Calvary: The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ As Described by a Surgeon – Pierre Barbet
  7. Life of Christ – Venerable Fulton Sheen
  8. The Ladder of Divine Ascent – St. John Climacus
  9. Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence – Fr. Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure
  10. Benedict and St. Therese: The Little Rule & The Little Way – Fr. Dwight Longenecker

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Lenten Special: Gator’s on the Menu

I love being Catholic. We have so many big “T” and little “t” traditions that sometimes it is hard to keep track of them. One of our time honored Traditions (big T) is the Lenten fast. Meaning, we abstain (no meat) from meat on Ash Wednesday, all Fridays and of course, fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Related to this subject, sometimes there are questions that make me chuckle. In fact, the Church chooses to answer some of those fun questions which is also hilarious. Take for instance Mr. Piculas, owner of the Insta-Gator Ranch and Hatchery in Covington, LA. His question asked if gator was acceptable to eat on Fridays during Lent. Most Reverend Gregory M. Aymond, Archbishop of New Orleans his local ordinary replied back with a resounding “Yes” (Check out the official letter). Not only yes but also agreed that they are “magnificent creatures.” Who would have thought? Obviously, it is important to Mr. Piculas and so important to his Archbishop. But seriously, it makes you chuckle, right?

That being said, this time of year causes people to ask why we do what we do. Abstinence and fasting have a long history that pre-dates Christianity. If you want to know more, check out the following:

Anyway, I just wanted to pass on this gator-funny to you. Have a great Lent and know that we continue to pray for you and those intentions closest to your heart.


Why Deny Ourselves: Mom and Dad Know Best…

My memories of Lent as an adolescent growing up are filled with “mandatory family-fun” penances imposed by the bourgeois proletariat otherwise known as “the parents”. Now, as an adult and husband/father of four, I understand my parents’ wisdom in training me for a life discipline.

I am sure your parents encouraged the same type of penances: giving-up snacks between meals, no television, no arguing, etc. We all tried (maybe it was just me) to find the loop holes and exceptions in the law but sadly, with an Irish Catholic mom, no dice. I even remember a wanting to “renegotiate” the penance by offering to do an act of charity instead of giving something up. My parents loved the idea and encouraged me to “do” be charitable in addition to giving something up. Ugh! Much too every child’s surprise, they again were right. Today, it seems that people only want to do an act of charity instead of denying oneself of a pleasure or a bad habit(s).

My parents without any advanced theological training instinctively knew that we needed to empty ourselves. As a deacon this time of year, I often hear the “don’t be negative – do something positive” mantra. Like my parents, I have to encourage a Lenten kenosis so I am sure they may reap the benefits.

Why? It simply doesn’t pass the 8 ounce glass test. What I mean to say is that if your cup is already full, you have neither the room for the graces the Lord has in store for you nor the foresight to see that we have stored up garbage that must be taken out. Let’s be honest, we live in a world that is over-committed, time-crunched, vain – we don’t need to change – and yet, we silently confess that we are starving for God. Lent is not about doing more but about making room for His grace in our lives. We do this by shedding those habits that impede our growth in holiness. In order to do that, we must whole-heartedly embrace a self-kenosis or emptying to “make room”.

We deny ourselves of certain pleasures to remind our body that is was made for more than entertainment and our whims. Scripture tells us,

And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:15)

It was made to be in union with Jesus. When we are comfortable, our body and emotions tend to run our lives and fill our minds. During a penitential fast, it “shocks” it back into line and hopefully causes us to long for our Lord.

This longing, typically causes us to stop and reflect. At first we discover: “Wow, I was addicted to that coffee” or “I really could not go without that daily Twinkie (I love Twinkies but alas, my wife won’t let me eat them).” This typically then causes us to reflect and re-inventory our lives. This self-reflection within the context of the Christian tradition is the nexus of Christ’s transforming power.

Blessed John Paul II loved to quote, Gaudium et Spes 22:1,

The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.

What does this mean? Because of Original Sin, when we reflect upon ourselves it is like looking at ourselves in a fun-house mirror. The image is distorted. In order to see what needs to be corrected, we need a template or a correct image to guide. Our Lord’s humanity has become our template for what it means to be truly human. By gazing upon Him and He upon us, He is able to assist us make those gentle corrections to form us into His very image.

Giving-up up something for Lent is definitely not fun but necessary to make room for our “extreme make-over”. The payoff though is that we will rise with Him and become an icon of Jesus to everyone we meet.

Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11)

I now understand that my parents were trying to teach me how to get out of the way thus preparing me for an encounter with the Living God. Thanks mom and dad!

Blessings to you on this Ash Wednesday.

Pope Explains Lent at Audience, Mass

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Wishing all Christians a “happy Lenten journey,” Pope Benedict XVI said fasting, almsgiving and prayer are traditionally suggested for Lent because they have proven to be effective tools for conversion.

Lent is a time “to accept Christ’s invitation to renew our baptismal commitments” in order to arrive at Easter in a new and stronger state, the Pope said at his weekly general audience March 9, Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent for Latin-rite Catholics.

“This Lenten journey that we are invited to follow is characterized in the Church’s tradition by certain practices: fasting, almsgiving and prayer,” he told the estimated 7,000 people gathered in the Vatican audience hall.

“Fasting means abstaining from food, but includes other forms of self-denial to promote a more sober lifestyle. But that still isn’t the full meaning of fasting, which is the external sign of the internal reality of our commitment to abstain from evil with the help of God and to live the Gospel,” Pope Benedict said.

In the Church’s tradition, he said, “fasting is tied closely to almsgiving” and is the sign that after having given up an attachment to things and to sin, the Christian has embraced good works.

“Lent is also a privileged time for prayer,” the Pope said. He quoted St. Augustine, who described fasting and almsgiving as “the two wings of prayer,” because they are signs of humility and charity.

Pope Benedict said, “The Church knows that because of our weakness it is difficult to be silent and sit before God,” even though we are “sinners who need his love.”

“For this reason, during Lent, the Church invites us to be more faithful and intense in our prayer and to meditate at length on the word of God,” the Pope said.

The Lenten period is the Church’s gift to Christians to help them prepare to truly celebrate Easter, Pope Benedict said.

“In order to reach the light and joy of the resurrection, the victory of life, love and goodness, we, too, must take up our cross each day,” he said.

Celebrating an evening Mass during which he received ashes from retired Cardinal Jozef Tomko and distributed ashes to cardinals and others present for the liturgy, Pope Benedict said, “Let us begin the Lenten journey trusting and joyful.”

In his homily during the Mass at Rome’s Basilica of Santa Sabina, the Pope said there is a risk that Lent is seen as a time of “sadness, of drabness,” when it really is “a precious gift of God, a time rich and full of meaning” for the Church and its members.

In fact, he said, Jesus admonished his disciples not to moan and groan in public as they practiced their penance, because then the admiration they received would be their reward.

Especially during Lent, Christians should be “a living message” of the joy and beauty of being saved by Christ because “in many cases we are the only Gospel that people today” will know, he said.

“Here is another reason for living Lent well: to offer the witness of faith lived to a world in difficulty that needs to return to God, that needs conversion,” he said.

Also March 9, the Vatican released Pope Benedict’s message for Brazilian Catholics’ Lenten solidarity campaign; the 2011 campaign focused on the relationship between environmental destruction and human selfishness.

“The first step toward a correct relationship with the world around us,” the Pope said, is to recognize that human beings are creatures made by God.

“Man is not God, but his image, so he should try to be more sensitive to the presence of God in what surrounds him: in all creatures and especially in other human beings,” the papal message said.

Respect for the environment will never be complete without respect for and “a clear defense of human life from conception to natural death, without a defense of the family based on marriage between a man and a woman, without a real defense of those who are excluded and marginalized by society” and without concrete care of those impacted by natural disasters, he said. (Source: NCR)

Vivifying our Spiritual Senses

Sacred Scripture provides a number of reasons for fasting. They include: an expression of mourning (2 Samuel 1:12), an expression of contrition (1 Kings 21:27), an expression of solidarity with the poor and the hungering for justice (Isaiah 58:6-7), a preparation for a spiritual mission (Matthew 4:1-11), a way to awaken a spiritual hunger for the Lord (Matthew 9:14-15), a way to mortify one’s appetites and achieve greater self-mastery, and as a way to participate in the passion of Christ (Colossians 1:24).

Some have remarked that due to his emphasis on the goodness of the body, Venerable John Paul II’s Theology of the Body would be against many traditional Lenten practices such as fasting, abstinence, bodily penance, etc. That would be untrue. JPII did not exalt the body but provided the context of the body in relation to the whole human person. He provided an anthropological framework to understand its intended place in God’s plan. He taught us that in the salvific plan of the Father, which culminated in the life of Jesus and the sacrifice of Christ crucified, that the body can be redeemed in light of the paschal mystery. Finally, he summarized the Church’s teaching on eschatological man – the purpose of the body in the beatific vision. His own life attests to his belief in mortification – even utilizing the ancient practice of “the discipline” or flagellation.

The world, having practically made dialectical materialism the universal religion, rejects mortification and, for the sake of this post, fasting as unnatural because the spirit does not exist. On the flip side, others see fasting as a necessary means to free the spirit. However, the Christian view of fasting and other penitential practices is not rooted in a suspicion of the body or a Manichean notion of liberating the spirit from the body. It is rooted in the truth that since the fall of humanity, the human being suffers from concupiscence and, thus, the flesh continues to assert itself against the intellect and the will in order to reign supreme by dictating its desires and actions.

But it was not so in the beginning! As JPII teaches us, we were in a virginal state – a state of perfect unity with the body, mind and spirit. The Father intended that the flesh gather sensory information, present it to the intellect and then, the intellect would inform the will on the best decision to make. Since the fall, the flesh attempts to override the intellect and will with a flood of emotions which in the beginning were meant to confirm and support our decisions. Due to our wounded humanity, we are no longer integrated and the various powers of the flesh and the spirit daily wage war on each other. Christ, though, won for us the grace that “re-integrates” us. We were saved for holiness and wholeness.

We must cooperate with grace, though. That means we have certain ascetical disciplines to assist us in this area of re-integration. Among all our ascetical practices, fasting holds pride of place. The Catechism teaches us that we fast to

prepare us for the liturgical feasts. (CCC 2043)

Only a person who knows how to fast understands the feast. It also teaches us that sensory and bodily mortification

helps us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart. (CCC 2043)

If feeling our hunger can awaken that sleeping giant known as the spiritual senses, then never experiencing hunger emaciates and darkens them.

Unfortunately, we must admit that we live in a world of extremes. It is easy to see that most do not fast except when mandated. The Lenten fast has become more of a time to give up chocolate or coffee. I know they could be good mortifications but, typically, once Easter morning arrives we find that all the bad habits are back on the menu! Additionally, we live in a time fraught with eating disorders. Fasts and bodily mortification can be a challenge because they are an excuse to lose weight or avoid what you didn’t want anyway. Men, we really need to key an eye on this for the sake of our sons and daughters (wives too!). St. Francis de Sales addresses this when he speaks of moderation being the key to a disciplined life:

At all times a constant habitual moderation is better than occasional excessive abstinence, alternated with great indulgence. The discipline has a surprising effect in rousing the taste for devotion, if used moderately. The body is greatly subdued by the use of the hair shirt, but it is not fit for ordinary people, married persons, those who are delicate, or who have to bear considerable fatigue. On certain days of special penitence it may be used, subject to the counsel of a judicious confessor. (Source: Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III: Containing counsels concerning the practice of virtue, 23. On Bodily Mortification)

That being said, there is a place for fasting and it remains a staple of our ascetical tradition. A balanced approach – with a slight edge – may be found in St. Peter of Damaskos book, Treasure of Divine Knowledge in the chapter entitled, The Seven Forms of Bodily Discipline:

The second form of bodily discipline consists in moderate fasting. We should eat once a day and then not to the point of satiety. We should eat one kind of simple and readily accessible food – if possible, the kind of food that we do not relish particularly. In this way we can overcome gluttony, greed and desire, and live without distraction. But we should not refuse any kind of food completely, lest thereby we wrongly reject things that, being created by God, are ‘wholly good and beautiful’(Gen. 1:31). Nor should we gulp everything down at once, indulgently and without restraint; but each day we should eat one kind of thing, with self-control. We should use all things for the glory of God, and we should not refuse anything on the grounds that it is evil, as the accursed heretics do. We may drink wine when appropriate: in old age, sickness and cold weather it is most helpful, but must be drunk only in small quantities. When we are young and in good health, and the weather is warm, water is better, though we should drink it as little as possible. For thirst is the best of all bodily disciplines. (Source: Philokalia, Vol. III, p. 90)

The Church also has built checks and balances to manage extremes. Sundays are never fast days…nor are Solemnities. Some would say that I am just making excuses for a lesser Catholic to set aside the fast on those days and not living the “spirit” of Lent. I am okay with that. I have been called worse. But our Mater et Magistra knows what she is doing. She recognizes that fasting takes a toll on the body and that the body is prone to extremes. Thus, by relaxing the fast on Sundays and Solemnities, the body repairs itself and weans itself from those indulgences instead of going cold turkey (which 99 percent of the time does not work).

More importantly, it provides a litmus tests for those who are prone to extremes and scrupulosity. It ensures they have not crossed the line. If you cannot relax the fast then something is disordered or potentially could become disordered. Most hagiographers applaud St. Francis of Assisi for his delicate care of St. Clare. In directing her, he discovered that her fasting had become twisted so he forbade her to fast. The obedience to his command became her fast. We should also remember that St. Francis, at the end of his life, recognized his abuses and repented for the harsh disciplines against “brother ass”. This valuable discipline needs to once again become part and parcel for our Catholic lives. Dads, you can help by giving witness to the power of fasting and help moderate it for your family. With your help, we can once again discover the power of the Lenten fast and truly experience the joy of the resurrection at the end of our 40-day journey.

Happy New Year!…Almost

This Sunday is our New Year celebration. Yep, that’s right, not January 1. Our celebration is much more modest than what the world celebrates which is called the Festival of Janus. We don’t have a crystal cross descending or throngs of people watching a clock tick at the local cathedral, we have Mass.

The Festival of Janus is celebrated on the first of January. Most of the world participates in this rite whether they believe in Janus or not. Who is Janus? Janus is the god of gates, doors, doorways, beginnings, endings and time in Roman mythology. In fact, the month of January is named after him. In art, he is depicted with having two heads looking in opposite directions; one looks to the future and new while the other looks to the past and old.

Celebrations included the large consumption of alcohol as well as making resolutions for the next year. Amidst the celebrating, there is the exchanging of sweet dates, honey and coins. Everyone had to celebrate for fear of Janus. If someone was found not to be participating they would have bad fortune for the next year.

When Constantine became Emperor he recognized the celebration for what it was and by law, made it a day of fasting for the Lord not feasting for Janus. Unfortunately, after his demise the pagan traditions continued. In 567, the Church, at the Second Council of Tours in France, abolished January 1 as the beginning of the year. And, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII re-established January 1 as New Year’s day with his calendar reform.

This set up the Church to begin marking its year with the First Sunday of Advent. This New Year’s celebration took time for reflection and meditation since the Church was entering into a little Lent. Advent, even today, is a time of anticipation, penance and fasting. It is meant to be a time focused on making room in our hearts for the King of Kings. It is a time to enter into the silence and darkness of our hearts in order to experience the joy, jubilation and the light of Christ. The season of Christmastime is meant for carols and jubilation.

This Sunday, commit to making it a day of celebrating the new liturgical year – a year of grace and salvation. The official cult of Janus has disappeared though their liturgical rites continue with us today. Interestingly enough, Holy Mother Church encourages January 1 to pass in relative obscurity. She does not even encourage Mass or even a Holy Hour. She does encourage people to gather in silence, pray the Te Deum and then to go home in silence to get a good night sleep. Why? Eternity is a celebration. This life is a preparation for the eternal party.

One might say that the Church is being a killjoy but really she is celebrating the salvific mystery of Christ. We remember that we are but pilgrims on this earth. We glory in the fact that Jesus has invited us to join in His mission of salvation for everyone we meet. We are called to make new resolutions every evening at the beginning of Compline. We no longer have to fear what the future holds or if we will find joy and happiness in the next year. Jesus, the Lord of History, rules! In Him, the Christian cares little for the old pagan rites. They glory in their Lord and celebrate the liturgical year which is the preparation for the rhythm of eternity. So, where do you profess your allegiance? With the Christ or Janus? May the calendar year pass by in obscurity while the first Sunday of Advent fill your heart with anticipation and joy for the birth of a King.

Happy New Year!…Almost

Music to Your Ears?

Okay, a number said they did not enjoy that form of plainchant.  What if we went East? Klardin describes the following,

The late Archbishop Job sings the 15th Antiphon at Matins for Great and Holy Friday 2009. This video almost didn’t happen. We had wanted to record Vladika singing this antiphon for years, but he often refused to sing it out of humility. This year we managed to convince him to sing it, and I was miraculously able to video it. Little did we know it would also be the last time he would chant it at Holy Trinity.

I also enjoyed his understanding of the liturgical life. He truly has a shepherd’s heart in understanding the yearning of his people and the need to be faithful to our preparation for the Divine Liturgy.

Lord, that we might breath with both lungs! In your mercy, reunite Christendom. May we ardently work with the Orthodox to fulfill your high priestly prayer, “Ut unum sint!” (John 17:21)

The Fast of Adam

Shortly before Lent, in the Greek Rite, there is a three-day period of penance and fasting called the “Fast of Adam”.  This recalls the “law of abstinence given by God to Adam in Eve in paradise (Genesis 2:17).”[1]

[1] Klein, Rev. Peter, The Catholic Source Book (Harcourt Religion Publishers, 2000) p. 102


Fasting is an integral part of every world religion. Catholicism has always encouraged this practice especially during the Lenten season. Catholicism stands apart among the many religions of the world because of its anthropology of the human person and its approach to fasting.  The essential difference(s) is twofold.  First, fasting assists in focusing one’s attention thereby increasing the individual’s desire for union with God.  The second is that the Catholicism values the human person who is an embodied spirit.  The soul is not better than the body but is a constituent to the whole of the body – the body gives expression and provides information for/to the soul.

Conversely, fasting in other world religions, Buddhism and Hinduism for example, use fasting as a way to eradicate the desires of the body through suppression and denial.  As in all things, the end or means of travel dictates the journey and the vehicle to get there.  For Buddhism and Hinduism, Nirvana or union with Brahman can only be achieved by the destruction of desire and neutrality of all likes, dislikes and perceived “goods” which is anti-human.

On the contrary, Catholicism promotes the good, truth and beauty of the body and the desires of the heart.  The catch is in application – how one interprets, pursues and actualizes those desires.

Fasting has an ancient tradition and even by the time of Christ, fasting and abstaining had a long and venerable history among the Jews. Among devout Jews, Monday and Thursdays were days of fasting so that one was not fasting immediately before or after the Sabbath.

The early Church moved the days of fasting to Wednesdays and Fridays in honor of Spy Wednesday when Jesus was betrayed by Judas and Fridays when He was crucified.  As with the Jews, Catholicism does not allow fasting on the Sabbath.  This honors the resurrection, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?  As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.” (Mark 2:19). Additionally, it honors the body that needs to rest and recuperate from the strain of the week.

The following is an outline of the current discipline of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, #1249f:

  1. The Season of Lent preserves its penitential character.
  2. The days of penance are Ash Wednesday and all Fridays in Lent.
  3. The manner of fulfilling the precept of penance:
  • Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fast and abstinence.
  • All Fridays are days of abstinence only.
  1. Church Law binds as follows:
  • The law of abstinence (not eating meat) obliges those who have completed their fourteenth year.
  • The law of fast (only one full meal each day, nothing between meals) obliges those who have completed their eighteenth year until the beginning of their sixtieth year.
  • Proportionally grave inconvenience excuses law of fast and abstinence.
  1. The substantial observance of these laws is a grave obligation.
  • Anyone who neglects all forms of penance violates divine law and is guilty of grave sin.
  • Anyone who occasionally violates the law of fast and/or abstinence is not guilty of sin.