In Part 1 of our series, we discussed how through fasting, we can more easily turn our minds and hearts to prayer, train our bodily passions to quiet down, and aim to be more receptive to Jesus. But fasting also makes the feasts much sweeter and more celebratory.
In the monastery, after spending the wee morning hours praying the Divine Office, the nuns may go to the refectory where a special treat awaits them: perhaps pastries or sweet bread, or perhaps pancakes or a baked oatmeal with fruit and always eggs! Because the rest of the week the options for breakfast are simple, meant only to lessen hunger pains for the morning’s work, the hot breakfast of Sundays and solemnities is that much more special.
There is also greater joy if a special treat is donated to the monastery, and much gratitude on the part of the sisters. Imagine if we were able to eat such things all the time – again, it’s not healthy for us physically and it loses its “specialness”. A meal is meant to be a communal celebration – a family sitting down together for dinner, a community breaking bread in the refectory. In a sense, it is a continuation of the Eucharistic meal we share together at Mass and an anticipation of the heavenly banquet to which we look forward.
Families can live and share the faith in a tangible way by serving meals that nourish the body and trace what is happening that day in the liturgy. The Church encourages us in this anyway by marking Fridays as days of penance and asking her children to fast and abstain on certain days in Lent. But that’s the minimum – we can take it to deeper levels. Is it a particular Saint’s feast day? Mark the occasion by preparing a dish from that Saint’s country or background. Breads or cookies in the shape of a dove are common on Pentecost. Marian feasts are often celebrated with white foods (symbolizing purity). By reserving certain foods and dishes for these days, we make them even more special. For more ideas, check out Catholic Culture’s website or Fr. Leo E. Patalinghug’s show and books ((and the increasing number of other resources and books available).
But we aren’t finished yet – we are called to take fasting to another level. Our fasting is to be tied with works of charity. Through fasting, we must dispose ourselves to allowing our neighbors to share our property out of love. There are millions in our cities and around the world who do not have enough to eat, even in this country where so much food is wasted. They do not have adequate clothing, water, shelter, or access to basic education. They lack the basic necessities for preserving their God-given human dignity. How does fasting help us to do this?
Check back for Part 3 in our discussion.