The Facts on Fasting

On Fasting

Fr. Eric Marcelo Genilo SJ
*Here is another homily on fasting from Fr. Ritchie Genilo SJ. This was his homily last Friday, 19 February 2010 at the Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University. Fr. Genilo teaches Moral Theology.

In our first reading from the book of Isaiah, we are given a lesson by the Lord about what it truly means to fast. Fasting is not simply about external penances and outward displays of devotion. The purpose of fasting is inner transformation that would bear fruit in works of justice, charity and compassion. God criticized those who misuse fasting and penances in order to feel and appear righteous while remaining unjust to their neighbors. God uses strong words to condemn this kind of hypocritical fasting – on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers. Your fast ends in quarreling and fighting.

God tells the Israelites, through the prophet Isaiah, that fasting is not an end in itself but simply a means to break out of our selfishness, pride, and materialism in order to live as true children of God. Our fasting must move us to acts of justice and charity – releasing the slaves and prisoners, setting free the oppressed, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, and caring for one’s neighbor. Our fasting and penances during this season of lent must not make us focus on ourselves and our needs but it must direct us towards responding to the needs of others. Our voluintary fasting and penances is not simply an endurance test to prove our faith. It is an act of solidarity with those whose hunger and pain is not voluntary.
May our Lenten practices of penance lead to a conversion of our hearts and our way of living so that we can be more just and generous to others. If we practice this authentic kind of fasting, the Lord assures us that he shall be with us and that our light shall break forth like the dawn and the wounds of our sinfulness shall quickly be healed.
Additional Note from the Jesuits’ bulletin board concerning the practice of fasting.

1. What is the Church’s official position concerning penance and abstinence from meat during Lent?
In 1966, Pope Paul VI reorganized the Church practice of public penance in his “Apostolic Constitution on Penance” (Poenitemini). The 1983 revision of the Code of Canon Law incorporated the changes made by Pope Paul VI. Not long after that, the U.S. bishops applied the canonical requirements to the practice of public penance.
To sum up those requirements, Catholics between the ages of 18-59 are obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In addition, all Catholics 14 years old and older must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all the Fridays of Lent.
2. Fasting as explained by the US Bishops means partaking of only one full meal. Some food (not equaling another full meal) is permitted at breakfast and around midday or in the evening — depending on when a person chooses to eat the main or full meal.
3. Abstinence forbids the use of meat, but not of eggs, milk products or condiments made of animal fat.
According to Fr. John Huels in “The Pastoral Companion” (Franciscan Herald Press), abstinence does not include meat juices and liquid food made from meat. Thus, such food as chicken broth, consomme, soups cooked or flavored with meat, meat gravies or sauces, as well as seasonings or condiments made from animal fat are not forbidden. So it is permissible to use margarine and lard.

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