Traditionally, Catholics prepare for the coming of Easter with fasting, prayer and almsgiving. The first and last sound rather quaint, if you know what they mean at all. Today, I'll write about fasting.
During Lent, Catholics are called to fast. "Slow down," you might say, "what is fasting?" Merriam-Webster says it means "to abstain from food or to eat sparingly and abstain from some food." To fast is to refrain from eating the normal amount of food. Catholics (from ages 18-58) are obliged to do this on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, assuming there are no medical conditions that would create an exception (my sister is in the hospital right now and so is exempt; my wife is pregnant and also exempt). For Catholics this means eating one full meal with the some food two other times. Of course this is a minimum and people are encouraged to do more if they can.
Related to fasting is Abstinence. "Wait, we are already 'abstaining' from food, so does this mean sex?" you may venture. A logical deduction, but not correct. Catholics (from ages 14 on (i.e., till death do you depart)) are required not to eat meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent. What if you're a vegetarian/vegan? I'd say give up something else that you like (not necessarily food) to keep in the spirit of self-denial. Being a meat lover, I don't need any substitutes.
Also related to fasting is the idea of "giving something up" for Lent. I've give up many different things in the past (chocolate, snacking, you know, the usual stuff), but this year I've been inspired by a blog I read to try something different: fasting from fiction. Now, the blogger is going full-bore, i.e. no books, no TV shows, no movies. I am shooting with a lesser caliber. I am abstaining just from printed fiction (which I've been reading a lot of), except for reading books to my 16-month old son. If I stopped reading his books to him, it would be a penance for him, not for me. Though I imagine the situation could rapidly become penitential for me as well. But I digress...
In stead of reading fiction, the blogger is starting a Lenten read-a-thon and this year's book is Theology of the Body by John Paul II. I've already read two thirds of that, so I will finish that up in due course. I've just started Pope Benedict XVI's The Apostles to begin my non-fiction journey. Once that's done, I'll pick up JPII again.
So much for fasting, tomorrow we look at prayer!