Fasting could take on a new meaning during Lent

I spent many years confused by Lent.

I’d watch my Catholic friends and acquaintances give up something they either wanted to give up, like chocolate, or thought they needed to give up, like alcohol, only to indulge/over-indulge on Easter Sunday. Or I’d attend a fish fry scheduled on a Friday night during Lent, with platters of food and dessert tables that said anything but “abstinence.”

It made no sense to me.

I don’t know if I am older and wiser or the thinking around Lent has changed. I thought I might be reading too many things written with a Protestant point of view, but then I saw a Facebook post (by Maria Shriver) that listed Pope Francis’ advice for Lent.

“Fast from hurting words and say kind words.

Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.

Fast from anger and be filled with patience.

Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.

Fast from worries and have trust in God.

Fast from complaints; contemplate simplicity.

Fast from pressures and be prayerful.

Fast from bitterness; fill your hearts with joy.

Fast from selfishness and be compassionate.

Fast from grudges and be reconciled.

Fast from words; be silent and listen.”

An email from a former pastor of mine shared a reflection by William Arthur Ward titled “Fasting and Feasting” with similar themes.

“Fast from judging others; feast on the Christ dwelling in them.

Fast from emphasis on differences; feast on the unity of all life.

Fast from thought of illness; feast on the healing power of God.

Fast from words that pollute; feast on the phrases that purify.

Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.

Fast from anger; feast on patience.

Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.

Fast from worry; feast on hope.

Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.

Fast from negatives; feast on affirmatives.

Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.

Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.

Fast from discouragement; feast on hope.

Fast from suspicion; feast on truth.

Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.”

Another Facebook post, this one from Father Ken Saunders and shared by Janet Dahl, was more succinct.

“This Lent, keep the chocolate and give up bigotry, judgment, misogyny, hatred, bias and divisiveness! Love God, love your neighbor. No exceptions!”

I also really appreciated the perspective of Episcopal priest Scott Gunn in an opinion column posted on Ash Wednesday on He writes that the Lenten season is built not on misery, but on deep joy.

“The Bible teaches us again and again that there’s always a second or third or hundredth chance to turn to God,” he writes. “And each time we turn to God, there is rejoicing in heaven. So if Lent helps us find our way to God again, there is gladness in our hearts and in heaven.”

He also points out, as do many writers, that the ashes marked on our foreheads serve as reminders that our earthy life is brief and one day will all will turn to dust.

“But this reminder isn’t meant to terrorize us,” he adds. “Instead, it is an invitation to use the gift of this life well. God has given us so many blessings, including life itself. How shall we use these gifts?”

I hope to spend these 40 days reflecting on that question and fasting from all the things that keep me away from God, from those I love and from those I should learn to love.

— Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers can email her at [email protected].

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean