Easter is coming; fast! I mean the action, not the adjective. It’s a command.
Once Easter comes, it seems, we forget about this wonderful act of self-denial. We break our fast and indulge in whatever it is we gave up for the past 40+ days. (Yes, Lent is longer than 40 days, and actually ends on Holy Thursday, but don’t break out the chocolate until Easter, please!) While this is not wrong or sinful, the Church reminds us that we don’t simply place sacrifice on the shelf until next year.
By fasting and abstaining during Lent, we learn to control our desires, to conform our desires, and our will to the will of the Father. We learn through this voluntary act of self-denial that it is possible to reject the things of this world. We learn that it is possible to turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel, as we heard on Ash Wednesday when ashes were placed on our heads. Repentance and conversion are brought to life when we fast and abstain.
This is a life changing undertaking. The act of denying our desires and our wants, if done correctly, can be mini-conversion moments for each and every person seeking to follow Christ more closely. In a recent homily, Pope Francis exclaimed that “conversion is not the question of a moment or a time of the year, it is an undertaking that lasts one’s entire lifetime.” Conversion is not just limited to one part of the year. Therefore the acts that lead us to personal conversion cannot be limited to one time a year. This is why the Church, in her wisdom, has instructed the faithful to partake in one form of penance each Friday during the year and not simply during Lent.
Rather than forcing people to do something, the Church, following the example of Christ, invites us to commit an act of penance every Friday of the year. Those in this “New Evangelization Generation” can ask their parents and grandparents if they had meat on Fridays during the year. The answer, if they were practicing Catholics, would be “No.” While the rule has been altered, the principle remains—Catholics are to treat each Friday as a day of penance, a day of conversion.
Canon Law states that
“The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works).” (CIC 1438)
Furthermore, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a Pastoral Statement on this very topic. In it, the Bishops state, “Friday should be in each week something of what Lent is in the entire year. For this reason we urge all to prepare for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday by freely making of every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ.” (no. 23)
The Bishops also give Catholics in the United States ideas for how they might consider carrying this out. (For the entire document, click here: http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-resources/lent/us-bishops-pastoral-statement-on-penance-and-abstinence.cfm)
This is something that we can truly make our own in our individual and family lives. This past year, my family and I have been trying to abstain from eating meat every Friday. This year, we may try something different, like adding family morning prayer to our morning routine or fasting from sweets and snacks. However, the what is not as important as the why in this instance. We fast and abstain to allow Christ to transform our lives by saying no to desires and yes to conversion.