Letter to Fr L – The Lenten fast, drawing us closer to God

O Clarim News Desk (English)

Dear Father L.

During the Lenten season, I’m annoyed when priests or lay people mention, discuss, or remind us faithful about fasting and mortification. I guess fasting and mortification have never been part of my spirituality. I find them burdensome. I can follow Jesus perfectly well without them. I can focus instead on doing good and dedicating more time to prayers for a more meaningful Lenten observance. I prefer to do good deeds in Lent, particularly during Holy Week, than fast and abstain.

Prayerfully yours,


Dear Cecilia,

Interestingly, your name suggests that you really need enlightenment. Prayer and works of mercy are both wonderful and necessary Lenten practices. But Lent can be even more meaningful if we include the practice of fasting and mortification. Jesus remains our model and exemplar in holy living and spiritual discipline. You can argue with me that our Lord engaged in much prayer and intercession during His forty days in the desert. But He did so while engaging in rigorous and meaningful self-denial. The Gospel attests that Jesus fasted while in the desert (Luke 4:2). The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert” (540). The Church has been fasting for 2,000 years. The legitimacy and moral authority of fasting speak for themselves.

Recall that one of the purposes of the season of Lent is to attack our inordinate love of self. To reflect more on our failures, to think more about disciplining our desires that lead to sin, to mortify – to subdue (the body or its needs and desires) by self-denial or discipline. Hence, one of the most basic and traditional forms of observing Lent is fasting: mandatory for all Catholics (except for those exempted by age or illness) on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and encouraged throughout the season. It has not just the weight of ancient Christian practice behind it, but the weight of all major religions. Even the ancient philosophers practiced fasting. Plato, for example, fasted in order to achieve greater physical and mental efficiency.

You mentioned that you find fasting burdensome. Try it gradually. Try eating your hamburger without ketchup, mustard, cheese and the other condiments you enjoy with it. Eat your French fries without salt, forgo the cream and sweetener in your coffee and enjoy your tea without honey or milk. In all these practices, you’ll feel the deprivation, and you will live an authentic Lent. Depriving ourselves of condiments is a great way to fast since although they add pleasure to our eating experience, they possess virtually no nutritional value.

To be clear, practicing penance is not an end in itself. The Church prescribes it for essential realities it brings about: it reminds us of our own mortality. The displeasure that comes with fasting makes us feel our lack of self-sufficiency and our dependence on God. It makes our prayer much more real and genuine because it is prayer made with both the body and the mind. That prayer, in turn, may fuel our acts of charity and good deeds to others.

Praying for you,

Father L.

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