Happy St Patrick’s Day!
If you’re Catholic, and you have a Saint Patrick’s Day dispensation from your bishop to eat corned beef on a Friday in Lent, it’s no big deal. Enjoy.
If six (or five) meatless Fridays and two days of “fasting” and abstinence a year is the extent of ascesis in your life…that’s a problem.
Big sacrifices or small, ascesis should be a regular part of our lives as Catholics, and as Christians. “When you fast,” Jesus said, not “if,” and “The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken away; then [my disciples] will fast.” In context, he meant that this would be an observable, characteristic part of their praxis; he didn’t mean twice a year (and something hardly discernible on those two days).
You don’t necessarily have to make heroic acts of self-denial (although you can probably do more than you think you can), but WHATEVER you do, it should touch your life frequently. I would recommend some kind of sacrifice at least once a week (on Fridays) throughout the year; during Lent it should have a pervasive character.
The point isn’t self-denial for its own sake. Fasting is empty unless joined to prayer and almsgiving.
Every time you think of or crave the thing you’re giving up, turn your heart to the Lord and tell him that you’re happy to give it up for Him. And find some way of helping the needy particularly during Lent. A purely self-centered fast is a deformed fast. True fasting is inseparable from charity, from love of God and active love of neighbor.
The trick with all this stuff is to fast and deny ourselves for right reasons and not wrong ones. The wrong one (and immensely popular for us in our pride) is to do it so that we can cast a sideways glance at all those other Catholics and think, “I bet she’s not fasting. Typical lax Catholic.” When we do that, we may starve our bodies, but we are only feeding our pride.
The right way is spelled out by Isaiah 58:
“Cry aloud, spare not,
lift up your voice like a trumpet;
declare to my people their transgression,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet they seek me daily,
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
“Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel
and to fight and to hit with wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a rush,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the LORD?¶“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you,
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, Here I am.
“If you take away from the midst of you the yoke,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the LORD will guide you continually,
and satisfy your desire with good things,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.
“If you turn back your foot from the sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the LORD honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Is 58:1–14). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.