One Ash Wednesday, my dad announced to my brother and I that for Lent he would be fasting on bread and water on Wednesdays and Fridays. He wondered if we would like to join him.
Aaron and I looked at each other thinking he had flipped his lid. Aaron said he’d stick to giving up arguing; I said I’d continue to refrain from hitting Aaron until Easter. With all of our resolutions on the table we were ready to begin our Lenten regimen.
The first week went by smoothly. We were amazed as Dad turned down my mom’s delicious meals opting for toast and water.
Somewhere between the second and third week things began to change. The definition of what bread is widened and one night for dinner our Mac & Cheese suddenly lost its appeal when dad brought home a box of chocolate frosted donuts and Boston Creams. By the end of Lent we were all not only enjoying Wednesdays and Fridays but looking forward to them. Man cannot live by bread alone unless it’s chocolate frosted, I thought.
I’m sure many of us have had a similar experience with our Lenten resolutions. I know I have.
The lesson I learned from my Dad is that when it comes to making a resolution for the Lord we should shoot big. He deserves it. Halfhearted and mediocre ones won’t bring us closer to him or help us to love him more fully. That my father even considered such a rigorous fast set him apart from all the other men I knew and gave a definitive Catholic stamp to my family and childhood, for which I will always be grateful.
Whether or not we are perfect in our Lenten resolution, we still learn a valuable lesson from them if we are sincerely seeking the Lord.
In case you are wondering, here are the official rules (at their minimum) established by the U.S. Bishops for fasting and abstinence.
• Every person 14 years of age or older must abstain from meat (and items made with meat) on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent.
• Every person between the age of 18 and 60 must fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
• Every person 14 years of age or older must abstain from meat (and items made with meat) on all other Fridays of the year, unless he or she substitutes some other form of penance for abstinence.
Thank you fr Jason your Dad have reason.I to learn for practice and do vigil with some meals.
Thanks, Ana Cecilia. As they say, father’s know best. A good dad can find a lesson for his sons and daughters in anything. The Church is like this too. Even when we are weak, we are strong when we look to Christ for strength, consolation, and answers. God bless!
Thank you for posting the minimum requirements. They are hard to remember, but easy to keep once memorized.
Every once in a while a little refresher helps. Thanks for your comment, Rainey View. God bless!
Reblogged this on God-Lights and commented:
Another great reflection from my friend, Fr. Jason Smith.
Thanks, Br Eric!
I thoroughly enjoyed the post and the lessons learned. Then I got the end, where you recapped the “minimum rules” and was surprised to realize that I only knew the second one. I thought the others were from the past. I knew about Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and abstinence, but all Fridays in Lent? And all Fridays during the rest of the year, unless another penance is substituted? I had no idea. I wondered why I had no idea, and that led me to an entirely different set of questions: to wonder if there is a crisis of confidence and courage among priests when it comes to teaching and communicating the Church rules. I wonder if there is too much fear of putting people off, driving them away, affecting the numbers in the pew (and collection amounts). Not mentioning what might seem to some to be arbitrary rules–and because I believe that the abstaining from meat on Fridays is a rule that can vary by diocese–it does indeed seem arbitrary.
I know that there is just so much time to teach/preach at Sunday Mass, but still, if something is important enough to have a rule about it, the whats and whys need to be communicated. If something leads to truth, and is valuable as such, then it needs to be said regardless of the consequences–or is keeping the “door open” more important?
The “all Fridays during the rest of the year, unless another penance is substituted,” rule has not been promulgated much, and inasmuch as a rule is not promulgated, it becomes less binding. I know many Catholics who keep this practice and many good Catholics who don’t. It’s a good practice, or devotion, that keeps us close to Christ in mind, body, and spirit. Recently, when Cardinal Dolan was president of the USCCB, the bishops strongly recommended and urged that Catholics return to this practice, but stopped short of stating that it was a binding rule.
As for abstaining from meat on all Fridays during Lent, that is a mandatory precept of the Church, with exemptions for special conditions, such as poverty, impoverished locations, special matters of health, travel (when meat is about the only thing available, which is rare), … reasonable circumstances all related to health in one way or another. This is why, as you mention, it can vary from diocese to diocese.
I agree with you on both of your points that, on the one hand, priests have limited time with most of their parishioners each week and have to make prudential decisions about what to teach and preach, generally during homilies and announcements, and most of them are kept busy during the rest of the week; on the other hand, you’re also right, important rules need to be communicated. We can’t just assume that people just know these things (because they don’t!) and we need to prioritize.
Having been more involved with my local parish this past year, I’ve also seen the need for parishioners to step up and get involved in faith formation and education, both on the learning and teaching side. This is difficult for various reasons, first and foremost, people are very busy, have families with various needs. We cannot demand or expect too much. We still need to stress the need, because our spiritual needs are also very, very important. I think many Catholics know this and would like to do more in this regard, but like I said, most are physically and emotionally swamped.
However, there is a way. I think it all starts with building a strong parish community, with little steps over time. Good programs, prayer and study groups, occasional talks with good speakers — and don’t forget the fish fry! — are ways of bringing parishioners together, forming bonds of friendship, and fostering a thriving faith community. I’ve seen it work.
Like a mustard seed, or a pinch of yeast in the dough, little efforts of faith, hope, love and a little work will make miracles happen.
Thanks for sharing your concern, Reinkat. I also ponder these things and how to resolve them often, as do many others. God bless!
I agree. I have found small-group faith sharing to be invaluable–and evidently so did some others in my parish. My women’s faith sharing group has been meeting bimonthly for almost 14 years, and I think we are bonded together for life. A true community, a family.
Building community through social and adult ed will be the most effective evangelism within the church, and lead to more and better outreach to those outside and unaware of what Catholicism is.