Lent is nearly upon us, and people will soon be discerning how this years 40 day penitential season will be impacting their lives. The season of Lent developed very early in Christian history as a period of preparatory fasting. People would refrain from certain meals and the eating of meat and cheese. They would often stick to a diet of raw fruits and vegetables throughout the 40- day season. This practice was seen as a way of uniting with the sacrificial life that God had demonstrated in Jesus Christ (Canons of Hippolytus, 20). Today many Christians carry on this tradition during Lent. They give up things—usually a food item or another practice—they enjoy in order to unite more deeply with the love of God. This Lenten season (which begins on March 5), I encourage you to reflect upon how your own fasting can incorporate creative ways of sacrificing your own comfort for people in need. Here are a few ideas you can incorporate into this season of penitence:
- Fast from a few meals each week, and give the money that you would have spent to organizations working to help hungry people. You might consider giving to a local charity or soup kitchen, an international relief organization like Catholic Relief Services, or a hunger advocacy group like Bread for the World.
- Take the food-stamp challenge. Millions of people rely on food stamps (now called SNAP) to keep food on the table. Try to live on the daily food-stamp allowance throughout Lent. The average daily amount for a person on SNAP is currently around $4.20 a day. Try to spend at least a week during Lent living on only this amount of food.
- Try a food-desert fast. There are many people who do not have access to grocery stores in their neighborhoods and have no way of regularly getting fresh fruits and vegetables. To understand how difficult it can be to live a healthy lifestyle under these conditions, consider living for a few weeks on only food that you can purchase from your local 7-Eleven or other convenience store. For many Americans, this is the reality they live with every day.
- Last year, hundreds of people joined the Fast for Families to pray for immigration reform. Fasters lived on a diet of only water for set periods of time. A number of fasters did this for 22 days. I myself joined them in a two day fast. When the fasting ended in Washington, D.C., in December, they commissioned people to go home and continue the fast until immigration reform was passed.Consider taking a day or two to fast on only water as part of this movement.
- You might also consider taking the extreme poverty fast. There are roughly a billion people in the world who live in “extreme poverty,” defined as those who live on less than $1.25 a day. You might try to create a food budget with $1.25 a day for a few days to feel a bit of what extreme poverty might look like.
By incorporating one or two of these ideas into your Lenten fast, you might find your heart more deeply united to God’s self-giving love. Make sure you consult with a doctor before starting any new fasts because a number of these activities could be risky to your health.