Letter to the Editor: What Is the Point of Lenten Fasting?
As Easter draws nearer and nearer, I am excited to celebrate Catholicism’s most important holiday with my family. Unlike many people—I think—I am not holding out for my Lenten fasting to end. Fasting occurs across religions, countries, cultures, and times, but Lent in particular fascinates me (so we will leave the rest aside). Lent seems more focused on “giving up,” which is a minor form of suffering. I have so many mixed feelings about making yourself suffer for 40 days, except Sundays, because why on earth does God want people to suffer? I mean, why does God care if I deny myself caffeine and slowly drive my classmates insane? What if I decide to suffer from a lack of education and skip class all Lent? Does that still count?
A few years ago, I gave up sweets for Lent. Honestly, I did it more to make myself shed a pound or two than to meditate on how Christ gave up His life for all of humanity. If fasting and/or suffering is supposed to bring us closer to God because He fasted in the desert for 40 days and suffered on the cross on Good Friday, thesn that was not part of my Lenten agenda. Looking back, my “fasting” felt more like a beauty pageant of “I gave up _______, what did you do to show how pious and health-conscious you are?” It was (is?) like New Year’s Resolutions, Part II: The Spring Break Body Edition.
Then, two years ago, I gave up swearing. That lasted about a week-and-a-half, and once the seal was broken, there was no turning back. I feel consoled by Father Joe Corpora’s Ash Wednesday homily this year at the 9 pm Basilica service, in which he explained how fasting did not always work for him, either. In some cases, it may have done the reverse (ask him about taking the stairs). I started to think: either Lenten fasting is not for everyone, or some of us are doing it wrong.
More and more, I asked myself: Who does it help? Am I a better person for giving up chocolate for 40 days, except every Sunday? Does God frown on babies conceived during Lent? Will a halo surround my head if I successfully stay off of Facebook until Easter Sunday, brunch time? But as I look at these questions, I realize they focus around some result. Who benefits, how much healthier am I, am I holier on the outside? As a society, we thrive on results. However, I do not think that the point of Lent revolves around results. To prepare for the most important Catholic holiday, Catholics want to purify themselves and become better people for Christ’s redemption. Thus, growing closer to God is a personal journey. Becoming a better person is a personal journey.
This year for Lent, I am not making myself suffer. Instead, I take groceries to the food shelf on Fridays. Granted, I have missed a few Fridays, but I give double (or triple) the next time. One may say that I am “suffering” by taking time and money away and giving it to those in need, but let’s be honest: I’m not losing much of either. I believe that, rather than make myself suffer, I will help to alleviate another person’s suffering, even just a little bit. I do not think that I am now looking at the hungry through Jesus’ very eyes, but at least I am giving them food. This is what I feel makes me a better person. This is my journey.
I make no claim to be an exemplary Catholic. My education of the historical and cultural implications of Lenten fasting is limited to Catholic grade school and high school. I come from a family of “cafeteria Catholics,” and I do not have a problem with that. Arguably, I curse more than I should (and I don’t give a damn if you disapprove). Bless me, reader, for I have sinned. A lot. But I’m working on it.
Last night, my dinner guest kindly refused chocolate for dessert on account of giving up sweets for Lent. You go, friend. If that’s the way that you are growing closer to God this Lenten season, then you do you. This is your journey, peace be with you.
Megan Toal is a senior majoring in Spanish and PLS. For Christmas, she received a four-pound bar of chocolate and is still working on it. To assist, Contact Megan at Megan.E.Toal.firstname.lastname@example.org.