Guide to keeping a good and fruitful Lent - Part 3
More on fasting
So as we consider the practice of fasting in Lent we need to be careful. Fasting is fashionable at the moment. Whether it is the 5-2 fasting diet or whatever, fasting in some form is "in". However from a spiritual point of view fasting can be dangerous for beginners in the spiritual life (which most of us are) - because if we launch ourselves in to some radical form of fasting it can so easily increase pride. As we all know pride is the deadliest of sins.
Just recently I was at a talk by a very experienced spiritual director who said that fasting practices (except the ones prescribed for all Catholics) shouldn't be considered until some other groundwork has been done.
First of all we need to bring order to our lives. Eg. do we rise at a regular and sensible time each day? Do we retire at a sensible time each evening? Do we moderate all our appetites sensibly? Do we have regular, sensible and healthy meals? Or do we base too much of our lives upon whims and fancies? Do we plan our day prudently? Or do we leave things to chance?
Bringing order to our daily lives can greatly help us to gradually become more self-disciplined, which is the practical aim of fasting. This more subtle form of fasting (fasting from whims and fancies) also has the benefit of not encouraging pride - they are little modifications after all!
Lenten counsel number 3 - before considering a difficult fast, ask yourself, "Am I disciplined in my daily routine, or do I live the day mostly according to my whims and fancies?" If your days are not planned prudently then making them so is the first step of fasting. In other words, build up self-discipline by fasting from your whims and fancies.
The other traditional counsel regarding fasting is that it should be communal. The Roman Rite of the Catholic Church requires us to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, between the ages of 18 and 60 years. Sea-farers are exempt. Although Canon Law does not specify exactly the nature of the fast, traditionally it has been one normal meal, and up to two cold collations. These collations should be very spartan and just enough to get by on. One may not eat meat on these days either. There is to be no fasting or abstinence on Solemnities of the Church's Year. What we drink is not affected by the fasting rule.
On every Friday of the year Catholics (between 14 and 60 years) must abstain from meat, except on Solemnities (this is for England and Wales).
Throughout Lent Catholics are required to perform some act of penance each day (prayer, work of piety/charity, deny themselves, fulfil obligations more faithfully).
So this Lent why not express the inner conversion by bringing more order to your life, and following the communal fasting rules of the Church more faithfully?
See Code of Canon Law 1249 - 1253 for the law on fasting for Catholics.