We are reminded each year that the three foundational virtues we care called to live out during this season are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. I could usually handle the prayer and almsgiving but the fasting has always been the toughest. Because of that fasting clause, Lent has never been my favorite season in the Church calendar. I love to eat! From the time I was a little kid, it has always seem like Lent was a time of deprivation. No meat on Fridays, no sweets, no good stuff (period) was the constant refrain during Lent.
Now that I’m older I still don’t like to be deprived but I see a reason for it. When I fast after I get over my initial discomfort, I start to think about all the people who fast every day of their lives. I think about those for whom fasting is not voluntary but a way of life. I start to think of children who go to bed hungry or parents who go without meals so their children can eat. I think about those who rely of people’s castaway food (dented cans, ripped packages, expired products, etc.) and rarely eat anything that’s fresh. I think about those who have to depend on pantries and suffer the humiliation of having to ask for food themselves and their families. I think of those who wait in Soup Kitchen lines and have the indignity of hearing from someone on the other side of the counter that they cannot get any seconds no matter how hungry they are.
Then I think about how easy my life is and how many choices I have each day in what I will eat. I think about how spoiled I am in not wanting to eat the same meal two days in a row while others eat the same meal of rice and beans every day and are so grateful that they have food. I also think about the other hungers in people’s lives. I think of all those who hunger for just one person to tell them they are loved. I think of those who hunger for meaning and for a reason to get up in the morning. I think of those who hunger for a kind word or just a smile or those who hunger for a future out of poverty. I think about the hungers we all have to be successful, to be esteemed by the people around us, to feel that our lives have meant something to someone.
Fasting does help us to do more that lose a few pounds. It helps us to pray more deeply as we realize our physical hunger and our spiritual hungers. It also takes us out of ourselves and our own petty selfishness and opens us to a whole world that hungers for food and meaning and love and compassion. Yes, it’s Lent and it’s time to fast and pray and be generous with our stuff, our time and our love. It’s not easy, this season of Lent, but in this season God calls us to our better selves and to a new freedom. May we not let this season pass us by!