If you’re confused about what “fasting” means, join the club.
In the desert (not to be confused with dessert), during those forty days, it meant no food whatsoever — a fast few could accomplish.
One dictionary explains that the word fast in the Bible is from the Hebrew wordsum, meaning “to cover” the mouth, or from the Greek word nesteuo , meaning “to abstain.” For spiritual purposes, it means to go without eating and drinking (Esther 4:16). In addition to Christ, Moses, Elijah, and Paul famously fasted to draw closer to God.
And draw closer one does, when one can exercise sacrifice.
That’s really what it comes down to: discipline and sacrifice.
The devil flees from it — from those who draw close to God. Few things are more powerful, greatly potentiating prayer. On television the other night was a woman who fasted from food for forty days and found herself so close to the Lord that she did the same fast twice more that same year. Afterwards, the Spirit flowed so powerfully that at one point she instantly, completely healed a young comatose man who was on his deathbed suffering from AIDS.
It is also defined (fasting, in another dictionary) as to “eat nothing, abstain from food, refrain from eating, go without food, go hungry, starve oneself,” but the principal definition (you’ll exhale a sigh of relief): to “abstain from all or some kinds of food or drink, especially as a religious observance.” Some kinds of — not all — food.
This brings us to the point:
In our current time, perhaps in accommodating the less-than-ascetic modern lifestyle, the Church chooses to deploy that latter definition of “abstinence.”
Abstinence is not not eating but cutting down on food or eliminating a particular kind, such as meat on Fridays.
Does abstinence carry the spiritual weight of old-fashioned biblical fasting?
Is it a form of fasting — or a compromise: a partial, kind-of fast?
It’s a good question. There are different ways to fast. You do the best you can. But you do try. In some cases, dioceses consider abstinence a day with two snacks and one full meal, which is starving to some, while it’s more than is usually eaten by others.
The view from here is that abstinence is not overly difficult.
At Nineveh, they proclaimed a fast and the wearing of sackcloth (after Jonah’s warning).
We are the modern Nineveh and proclaim a fish fry (with cole slaw).
Is a fish fry a sacrifice — is it a form of fast — when many people love seafood and in fact go to restaurants, Lent or not, for it?
A pretty hearty meal, fried fish. But a sacrifice? If you dislike seafood, certainly. Otherwise, you could gain weight, abstaining. Fasting slims the body, purges the blood, and clarifies the spirit. It’s spiritually and physically healthy. With it, the Blessed Mother says we can “suspend the laws of nature.” It used to be a standard part of Christianity.
One diocese in Louisiana has taken it all a step further, declaring that alligator meat can also be eaten on Friday — since gators live in the water and, as such, are sort of fish. Actually, reptiles.
But we won’t argue with authorities. (Not tough to eat, though; pretty tasty, fried, with tartar sauce or Cajun spices.)
Last week, many dioceses suspended the Lenten abstinence, allowing corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day, which fell on a Friday. It’s understandable. But following Church rules:
Lent isn’t so tough, after all.
The word to keep in mind, however — the rest of the way, this Lent — is “sacrifice.”