Historically, during Lent, fasting is encouraged on Fridays. Many wonder why this is a custom in the life of the Church. There are many reasons, but the first may be to remind us of the day. It is akin to tying a string around your finger, or in this day and age, sending yourself a reminder on your phone or computer. It marks the day as different as we set aside portions of the day to seek the Lord. For this reason fasting is often encouraged when we need the Lord’s guidance on a matter or issue in life. We see our Lord point to this in Scripture (i.e. Acts 13:2 and the choosing of the disciple to replace Judas).
Beyond merely marking the day, fasting also serves as an offering to God. We give up the time we would have spent over a meal in prayer. Even in our fast paced society today, we often have at least an hour for lunch. And if we turned this into an hour of prayer or studying God’s Holy Word, we present our time and ourselves as an offering back to Him. In times of trial or great decision we ‘carve out’ time to listen and seek the Lord for guidance, and on Fridays in Lent it allows us time to reflect upon our Lord’s sacrifice on our behalf on that day.
Lastly, Fr. Homer Rogers, a priest from this area of a generation past, once said that fasting helps “to discipline and train the bodily appetites in obedience to the higher faculties of the intellect and will.” Put another way, fasting helps develop in us a discipline to seek God above all else. It places us in a position of both humility and availability as we seek His will.
During Lent abstinence from meat on Wednesday and Friday is also done for many of the same reasons. The goal of course was not so focused upon the meat, as what the meat represents: extravagance. We don’t think of meat as extravagant, but it is certainly more rare than other food items (and a luxury in other parts of the world, or to the poor in our own communities). The goal behind this custom was to live more simply during this season. As we take times to refocus upon the Lord through both fasting and abstinence this season, I pray that we draw nearer to Him through these practices as we learn to seek Him above all else.