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If you can think about fasting you are lucky

“DON’T FORGET TO fast in Lent.” This is a well known catchphrase among Catholics in the lead up to Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of what is recognised as a 40-day period of fast.

More often observed by people trying to give something up for Lent, it can become a struggle of mind over matter in the effort to avoid eating or drinking a favourite delicacy for the long period of time.

Certainly not a wasted pre-occupation, but the question remains whether it truly fits in with the overall spirit of what Lent is all about or not.

Church law prescribes fasting and abstinence on Fridays during Lent, as well as on Ash Wednesday. However, today, most dioceses have opted for the alternative discipline of replacing the Friday fast with what is piously called an act of charity.

The fast and abstinence clauses of Church law may seem a bit obscene in some countries, as they tend to identify religious practice only with the upper and middle classes and can have no relevance to the vast majority of Catholics who go to bed hungry most nights anyway, but in a place like Hong Kong, they still have relevance for what is probably a decreasing majority.

While the admonition to carry out an act of charity may seem a bit of a hackneyed phrase with little meaning, a bit of thought can put it into a more concrete context.

In modern city life, Friday often represents a break from the stresses and strains of the week, as the treasured weekend follows. It is a time to relax rather than go on an austerity binge.

But within the relaxation, there is scope for charity. Maybe showing a bit of extra sensitivity towards some people may be a more constructive way to put it.

This takes a bit of planning and concentration, as well as creativity. It is by no means a simple task, as it takes time, psychological effort and moral strength to achieve—often even a bit of humility.

In mediaeval days, it was a custom for people to wear sackcloth and ashes in the streets, and publicly confess, as well as express repentance for their sins, which in a village are often well known to most residents anyway.

A few well chosen apologies to people may be a bit of humble pie well worth eating, even on a day of fast during Lent.

But most of all, it rhymes better with the spirit of Christian charity, as it is other-orientated rather than self-orientated, and Christianity is essentially an outgoing religion, rather than focussed solely on self.

However, if you are in the blessed position of even being able to think about fasting, remember you are in the minority of the world’s Catholics, as well as part of the more privileged section of the world’s population.

In his Lenten message for this year, Pope Francis says, “In imitation of our master, we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it.”


But fasting and charity take on a profound meaning when they contribute to our brothers and sisters who not only fast during Lent, but the whole year round, not because of any religious beliefs, but because they have no choice. JiM