I live in a parish with a predominately older population. Like many or most parishes, there are the daily Mass attendees… mostly gray haired… often coming for the rosary before Mass and then the 25 minute liturgy. I have to give a lot of our ‘dailies’ credit – they may also stay for the Chaplet of Divine Mercy… Good prayer warriors. But like most older folks – they are pretty set in their ways and don’t take to change very well.
And so, what to do for Lent? Oh, you know: “I’ll stop drinking beer.” Or “I’ll do what I have always done. No candy.” They’ve heard a priest tell them that if they’re over 60 years of age, they don’t have to fast. If taken literally, this would mean that likely 80% of the parish would be told not to worry about fasting. This is such a wimpy way of responding to Scripture. Such a disappointing mindset given that Blessed Mother Mary has been calling for fasting in her apparitions at Medjugorje.
What we should hear often is that the Church tells us that every Friday… not just Fridays in Lent… every Friday is a penitential day. At least every Friday we should be called to penitential sharing in some form of suffering or discomfort…. giving up things we enjoy. Minimally, the Church says that during Lent we should abstain from meat on Fridays. Given the wonderful fish dinners they serve at so many places in our town… abstaining from meat is more a pleasure — not a sacrifice. And so – what are you considering for Friday fasting?
Someone on EWTN said it is a traditional doctrine of Christian spirituality that an important part of repentance, of turning away from sin and back to God includes some form of penance, without which the Christian is unlikely to remain on the narrow path and to be saved. Those, dear friends are challenging words — not for the wimpy… and not for those who believe they are working their way to heaven by giving up meat on Lenten Fridays, while enjoying three satisfying meals those days.
Those who are in later years ought to be fasting in some form on behalf of the world (and the Church) that we will leave behind us… for our children and grandchildren. This Church that we are leaving to our young people tells us that when we’ve attained the age of 60, we don’t have to fast, except on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The writer on EWTN says that milk shakes and alcoholic drinks don’t break a fast for older folks… but the drinks certainly seem contrary to the spirit of doing penance. And so, while we may not be required to do a food fast at our age – certainly Fridays would seem a proper day to avoid a regular glass of wine or a trip to the Dairy Queen. And those would be minimal… minimal fasting practices.
We have a Friday soup supper discipline in the parish in Arizona where we live. It’s a nice communal thing to do. But I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending that as the only thing to do for Lent besides not eating meat on Fridays. Some religious orders never… never eat meat. Would you consider this as a fast that might work for you for all of Lent? And how about smaller portions? The early Church had a practice of a regular Wednesday and Friday fasting. Would you consider implementing tough fasting during a part of Lent? Or even beyond?
In the book REDISCOVER CATHOLICISM, Matthew Kelly writes about one of the great problems of modern day Christianity. It’s what I suggested before — minimalism. What’s the least that I can do and still get to heaven. How many truly believe minimalism is the way to love the Lord and walk in the desert? Our challenge these Lenten days is found in the call to prayer — giving up more time to spend with the Lord in prayer… in almsgiving… sharing more of our resources with others… and in fasting or some other forms of self-denial.
You and I need our calories and protein and fruits and veggies — but there are so many ways that we can fast. This deacon could fast from challenging or lengthy homilies or reflections.
In fact, that’s a great idea. I’ll stop now. Blessings.