Reflections from Ash Wednesday: quick to the fast, slow to the pride

February 23, 2012

I have both a(n in)famously effective metabolism and an incredible love of food.  (It’s the Filipino in me, probably.)  This means that I like to eat, eat well, and eat pretty much constantly; the director of my study abroad program has already learned to bring my table second and third plates of food during lunch and dinner.

This is how I look like when I don't get food every 45 minutes.

I think that’s why the idea of fasting on Ash Wednesday has always been tough for me (even with the Church’s allowance for 1 full meal and 2 half-meals in the day).  And to be honest, yesterday was the first day in which I took fasting seriously.  Growing up, I remember being in awe at my dad, who consumed nothing but orange juice and water on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  For my part, even when I had turned 18, I said to fasting, “Umm, I’ll have my hearty meal of fish, thank you very much.”

But yesterday, as I passed on breakfast and snacks, partook in a paltry lunch, and refrained from an overly filling dinner, I realized two things about fasting on Ash Wednesday.

First, it’s great preparation for Easter.  Fasting and giving something up for Lent is not necessarily about mortifying the flesh.  It’s about remembering the important things in life.  We make ourselves live without what we like and sometimes even without what we need because we know that all we really need — and what will truly satisfy us — is union with Christ.  Yes, we sacrifice to emulate Christ’s own example of sacrifice; yes we sacrifice in repentance for our sins.  But we also sacrifice because it helps us overcome the distractions in our lives, so we can fully receive Christ at Easter more willingly and appreciatively.

Second, fasting (and sacrificing during Lent in general) is a remarkably humbling experience.  Now, before, I always made a point not to talk about or show off what I was sacrificing: I’m wary of comparing my sacrifices to the sacrifices of others and of falling into petty pride, and, after all, “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  But what I realized yesterday is that sometimes, it can be good to talk about your sacrifices (and their accompanying struggles), because it offers the opportunity for fellow Christians to support each other.  So often yesterday, I let slip to my fellow Catholics how hungry I was and how much I wanted meat; they proceeded to strengthen my will and keep me accountable throughout the day.  It was enormously humbling to see all of us struggle with the fast together.

Fasting isn’t about proving yourself as “the holiest” amongst your peers.  Rather, fasting helps you realize that you are part of a worldwide community of believers, all of whom, in some way or another, are fasting and sacrificing alongside you in preparation for Easter.  So, with Ash Wednesday over and with Good Friday coming soon, let’s pray to be humble yet firm in our Lenten fasts and sacrifices.