Fasting amid the poor

How do you explain fasting to the poor? How do you explain abstinence to them?

In the Catholic Church Lent is a time of fasting. The “legal” fast of only one large meal and no eating between meals is now only required for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. It used to be the requirement for all the days of Lent (except Sundays and special feast – one of which, of course, would be St. Patrick’s Day, the high holyday of Irish Catholics). Abstinence means not eating meat and is still required for Fridays during Lent.

As I remember it, fasting in the pre-Vatican II days meant only one serving a meat a day.

On Ash Wednesday, I brought ashes and Communion to a rural village.

As part of my reflection we talked about the three major practices of Lent: prayer, fasting, and sharing with the poor.

The poor are almost always fasting, especially when the food they’ve stored from the last harvest runs out which is usually between May and August here in western Honduras. I also know that during these times mothers will often fast so that their children may have something to eat. Their lives are a continual fast.

I explained that abstinence was not eating meat for the day.

“How often each week do you eat meat?” I asked.

It was the wrong question since most of the people may eat meat once a month.

I felt humbled by this response. These people are often so generous and sharing. (I left with a whole bunch of bananas – more than 60!)

Meat is a luxury for most of the world. And, in a sense, that’s why I’m a vegetarian – to live in solidarity with the poor and to use less of the world’s resources.

When people in the countryside ask me why I don’t eat meat, I tell them that I have enough reserves of protein and thus am leaving the protein for them.  They get it and I don’t have to give a longer explanation.

And so let this Lent be a time of fasting and abstinence in solidarity. Many of us North Americans have enough reserves of protein and other foods. Can we let go of some of them and share with our sisters and brothers?

This is the fast the Lord seeks:
“to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the things of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke.
…to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house…
Isaiah 58: 6-7

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