A different kind of fast

March 13, 2018

By the time this column is published, we will be in the middle of our Lenten season. Mother Church teaches us that our journey through Lent should include fasting, prayer and almsgiving. My decisions regarding prayer and almsgiving are no-brainers for me. But this year, I struggle with the fasting portion of this trio.

Towards the end of last year, I developed health issues that placed me on a diet of no alcohol, low fat foods and more healthy choices. My new diet situation, coupled with the fact that I am a person who neither craves sweets nor snacks, made it much more difficult for me to discern my choice of fast. Merely fasting from chips, candy or adult beverages — as during previous Lents — was no longer an option.

After meeting with my spiritual director and hours of prayer, I decided to “fast” from criticism, judgmental and/or negative statements. This choice made sense to me. Didn’t Jesus address this in the Gospel of Matthew? “It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles that person; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one.” (Mt 15:11).

When I shared this idea with my husband, he thought it was an easy choice; he even commented, “I never hear you criticize or complain.” Really? I know that I do. It is amazing to me how we become accustomed to those little comments that are judgmental or negative. Can it be that our world has become so full of negative, judgmental and critical statements that we are no longer aware of them? This made me even more determined in my decision regarding my fast.

So, with the endorsement of my husband and my spiritual director, I began — like you — my Lenten journey on Ash Wednesday. And what a journey it has been! What I’ve learned thus far is that it is much easier to fast from putting certain foods in your mouth rather than from being careful what comes out of it. I have to really pause before I speak because, as much as I don’t like to admit it, critical thoughts often pop into my brain. I have to take time to think before I speak… and for an extrovert with Sicilian DNA, that is quite a challenge.

Even though Lent is not yet over, this journey has already taught me that changing one’s character and demeanor is hard and that it takes the aide of my Catholic faith to be successful. I am fed spiritually when I receive the Precious Body and Blood of Christ through the Eucharist which gives me the spiritual sustenance I need to continue my chosen Lenten fast.

As I struggle with this Lenten challenge, I am encouraged by the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is at my side cheering me on.

I might slip up from time to time, but God’s mercy is there for me in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Although my Lenten fast has been difficult, the treasured gift I’ve received from my encounter with Christ through his Church will extend far beyond the 40 days of Lent. Isn’t that the purpose of our fasting, praying and giving alms?

Mother Church, in her wisdom, knows it will bring us to a lasting relationship with Christ and His Church — His people.
So I ask you: from what are you fasting this Lent? Has it increased your prayer life? Has it helped you encounter Christ in a new way? Has it provided you an opportunity to be more Christ-like? When Easter arrives, we should all pause to reflect upon our personal answer to these key questions. 

Deborah Jones is an associate director with the Archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.