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Fasting in Lent and faith
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The question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” is a common enough prompt to a conversation among Catholic people, one which, as often as not, rambles drearily through preferred diets, bad habits and delicacies that may well be done without for a bit.

But does that add up to using the time constructively? Maybe there is something that could be taken on during Lent that may not just result in a smaller stomach or finer sense of well-being, but a minor conversion in our faith lives.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI described the monumental change going on in the world at present as putting the transition from the mediaeval to modern times in the insignificant basket.

The former pope made this statement in a radio broadcast back in 1969, when he was known as Father Joseph Ratzinger, saying that the early signs were already present. He has reflected on many occasions during his time in the Chair of Peter that the transition is still going on.

This transformation is changing the world in which the Church exists, which prompts the question of the suitability of the Church’s makeup and structure to cope with changes of such a magnitude.

Catholic people today are being asked to live their faith in a world radically different from the one of a bygone era. No longer does the culture in which they live support them in the living out of their faith. No longer do the basic truths of faith and morality proposed by the Church receive support from the environment in which Catholic people must give witness.

This surely raises a few questions that could be constructively pondered during Lent in a manner beyond an idle shrug of the shoulders or gesture for old time’s sake.

It brings into question our model of parishes, which can smack a bit of the take-away lunch shop, with people dropping in for the sacraments and, often doing little else. In our environment of today, this may not serve Catholic life well.

Retreat from the world is not the answer, as the vocation of baptism challenges us to be out in the world putting faith in the public square, as a living witness to something often counter-cultural, challenging many of the values society promotes.

The emeritus pope describes the Christian life as a continuous conversation with God. “Life is not a simple product of laws and the randomness of matter, but within everything and, at the same time, above everything, there is personal will, there is a Spirit, who in Jesus has revealed himself as love,” he says.

So, what could we take on for Lent?

The diocese of Hong Kong is suggesting strongly that people use the Year of Faith to read the documents of Vatican II.

Perhaps Lent is a good time to start, as Vatican II specifically addresses the challenges of living a Christian life in this, our modern world.

Father Bevil Bramwell, writing in The CatholicThing, suggests that the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World is not a bad place to begin.

He says, “Catholicism is an amazingly objective religion… Catholics are not lost in the false world of ideals. In the Church there is no indulgence of the perennial excuse of good intentions as a substitute for real witness.”

The Oblate priest from Boston College in the United States of America adds, “There are clear, objective standards in Catholicism—much to the chagrin of those who have been trying to make Catholicism fuzzy to create fig leaves for themselves.”

He says that the beauty of the Pastoral Constitution is that it offers clear guidelines for Catholic life, specifically addresses the Church and the calling of people, as well as isolating some matters of immediate urgency.

Father Bramwell suggests a good place to begin our Lenten reflection may be, “The well-being of the individual person and of human and Christian society is intimately linked with the healthy condition of that community produced by marriage and family.”

He says that is enough to read for a few days, but it does invite a bit of self-reckoning.

He suggests asking yourself, if you dare, “Do I seriously believe this? Do I hold to this fact in everything I do?”

The professor of ecclesiology then suggests that if the answer is clearly no, then there may be a need for a change in behaviour or outlook and, since it is Lent, now may be the time to start.

He calls this part of coming to understand what the Church means by being truly human.

“Try passing a day following this Christian perspective and see how it changes things,” he suggests.

He advises that there is plenty of grist for thought in the pages of just that one document from Vatican II, as it addresses not only marriage and family, but things like the proper development of culture, life in the political community, business life, peace and the promotion of the community of nations.

He points out that trying to live the reading can have surprising results. “You may find yourself wanting to be more conformed to Christ,” he notes, as every single thing that we do has meaning for us and our salvation.