Lenten fasting about more than just denial, local pastors say; it’s about fulfillment
CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Every Lent, the same — sometimes tired — question is asked: “What are you giving up?”
This year, The Michigan Catholic is inviting readers to participate in #LiveYourBestLent, going above and beyond the call of duty to make the 40 days building up to Easter a more profound experience.
Part of the Lenten tradition is fasting, or abstaining from eating between meals and making a conscientious effort to remove something in one’s life in order to grow closer to God.
For Catholics having a hard time thinking beyond the basics, Fr. James McNulty of St. Edith Parish in Livonia has some helpful tips.
“I think all of our Lenten practices should be geared toward loving God, bringing Him closer to us or in loving our fellow man,” said Fr. McNulty. “The key is, it has to be something that works for you. If you begin fasting from something, and all that it results in is you being crabby, being angry, then that does no good.”
Fr. McNulty suggested fasting isn’t meant to be a punishment, but rather a chance for Catholics to target something they feel has too much control in their lives and set out to redirect that energy to a positive change.
“If you’re giving up your morning Starbucks this Lent, take that money and collect it, and then give it to the poor,” Fr. McNulty said. “That’s doing something. I think we have a lot of time-wasters when it comes to technology. So if you give up technology, set out to do something more productive, maybe be more attentive to your family.”
Up in Macomb County, students and parishioners at St. Thecla in Clinton Township are trying to make a positive impact not only by fasting, but using that saved food and money to support the parish food pantry.
Cindy Pryor, a seventh- and eighth-grade teacher and moderator of the St. Thecla student council, has been working the food drive at St. Thecla for 30 years, saying it’s a great opportunity for students and parishioners to learn what it means to fast and care for those who have less.
“Each year, the student council suggests which types of a food each grade should donate to the pantry, and the student council collects and puts the food in the pantry,” Pryor said. “During Lent, the community puts together 60 to 100 Easter baskets the parish gives to the outside community. A basket ranges from a ham to fresh vegetables, sprouts, cereals, coffee, pretty much enough groceries for a week — all the makings for a nice Easter dinner.”
The St. Thecla food pantry is open year-round, staffed by parish volunteers, with food pick-up at the “drive-thru” style window from 1:30-3:30 p.m. every Thursday.
Pryor said the parish food pantry teaches students that fasting during Lent is more than just giving up a favorite snack or electing to forsake television for 40 days, but instead allows them to recognize those less fortunate and what it means to give something up for a greater good.
“In the upper grades, we encourage the students instead of buying a Slurpee at 7/11 for you, take that money and buy something for the pantry,” Pryor said. “We stress during Lent the works of mercy: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty. We hope it teaches them to appreciate the blessings they have. Making Lent a time to do for others, putting your faith into action.”
To the outside observer, fasting might seem like self-inflicted punishment, removing the things that give joy just for the sake of removing them. But Fr. Craig Giera, pastor of of St. Ephrem Parish in Livonia, says abstaining is not about making us miserable, but being closer to God.
“Fasting should bring us closer the Lord, but also closer to each other,” Fr. Giera said, “bringing into the full meaning of God to love your neighbor as yourself. Fasting is what brings that to us. As a Church, we ask on Fridays, not just during Lent, to honor the day the Lord died on the cross. It’s good to do some type of penance to be one with the Lord as well.”
Sometimes fasting means not giving something up for just 40 days, but realizing a habit or action a person does often and using Lent as a time to refocus and ask for God’s help in removing something that separates us from God.
“Fasting shouldn’t be looked at like, ‘Oh, I’m going to lose a couple of pounds,’” Fr. Giera said. “It’s more of, ‘I’m going to take that hunger inside and put it toward God.’ A couple of years before entering the seminary, I was listening to horrible music, so I simply took out the radio in my car. I had a job where I was driving a lot, sometimes 45 minutes, so instead of listening to music that took me away from the Lord, I started to pray more, praying the Divine Mercy chaplet. It helped me grow closer to the Lord.”
This is the second of three articles about the three pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
For more #LiveYourBestLent content, visit www.themichigancatholic.org/lent.