The Lenten Fast


In recent years it has become commonplace to hear more emphasis put on acts of charity and prayer than on fasting during Lent. Those who argue for this approach state that it is more meritorious to do good to others than to simply give up sweets, for example. After all, what good is it to give up sweets if one does not grow in prayer or serve others during the season of Lent?

For all the good intentions behind the do-more-rather-than-sacrifice approach to Lent, it is not altogether true. Lent, after all, is still a time of fasting and sacrifice. Fasting holds a venerable place in the Christian spiritual tradition. Jesus fasted for 40 days, and the Gospel states a very obvious fact: after these 40 days, Jesus was hungry.

We should experience literal hunger pains periodically during Lent and at other times during the year. Fasting is a way for us to grow in self-mastery. Because of Original Sin, we often let our passions rule us. An example of this is gluttony, when we overindulge in our desire for food and drink. To fast, then, is to grow in the virtue of moderation. Fasting is a way for us to allow our spiritual desires to become stronger than our physical ones.

So, yes, pray more and do more good deeds during Lent. But set designated days and times to fast from particular food and drink so as to unite yourself to the sacrifice of Christ and to grow in Christian virtue.