It’s Friday, which means a day for fasting.
This is different from what is widely practiced during Lent.
That — bypassing meat (or a meal) on Friday — is more what the dictionary and Scripture, if not the current Church vernacular, calls “abstinence.” The dictionary defines abstinence as “the fact or practice of restraining oneself from indulging in something.”
Fasting is a bit more stringent: “to abstain from all or some kinds of food or drink.”
When Jesus was on that desert for the Forty Days, the definition he applied was the one with the word “all” in it.
At Medjugorje, the Virgin told those seeking to follow her program of sanctity that “the best fast is on bread and water” — best because for many people, it is strict and yet the most doable. When Fridays mean only abstaining from meat, one might wonder how that’s such a big sacrifice, when seafood is one of the most sought-after of foodstuffs, even a delicacy.
Clams? Oysters? Grouper? Founder?
Many parishes offer Friday fish fries.
Hard to see the sacrifice in that.
Broiled or blackened? (Is a lobster boil next?)
In some dioceses, the definition of seafood and fish has been expanded to include other animals. The Archdiocese of New Orleans allows alligator meat to be considered a fish (although we all know gators are reptiles). In Detroit, you’re allowed to chow down on muskrat (if perchance you fancy that). In Quebec, beaver (likewise an aquatic mammal) is allowed.
In South America, the capybara. (Yum!)
Did you know that hippo meat is okay? (But no: not kosher.)
What’s next: whale meat in the Arctic?
Pity poor seals — though few are likely to seek polar bear (even though spending so much time on ice floes, it’s nearly as “aquatic” as a beaver).
This is all having a bit of fun — although perhaps it is time for everyone to have a little bit less fun and a lot less indulgence. Fasting two days a week (that is, no food, or just bread with, perhaps, coffee, tea, or juice) is actually good for you.
It’s certainly more healthful than Filet-O-Fish.
When you fast, your body cleanses. Some scientists believe that during a fast from food, the body may even consume cancer cells, for when we need energy, our bodies seek first aberrant, malformed, defective cells to consume and cancer is a malformation.
There was an entire article about some benefits (for diabetes control) recently in the Harvard Medical School newsletter (November 16, 2021, and February 28, 2021). But there are also qualifiers. “There’s a ton of incredibly promising intermittent fasting (IF) research done on fat rats,” said the most recent article. They lose weight, their blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugars improve… but they’re rats. Studies in humans, almost across the board, have shown that IF is safe and effective, but really no more effective than any other diet. In addition, many people find it difficult to fast.
“But a growing body of research suggests that the timing of the fast is key, and can make IF a more realistic, sustainable, and effective approach for weight loss, as well as for diabetes prevention.”
At any rate: the main point is spiritual: when we fast, we are placing ourselves above the world, the flesh. The prince of this world, said Jesus, is the devil. Thus we are parting ways and rising above him. Our spiritual blinders (so tight in current times) lift. We are closing out worldliness. We can stop wars and suspend laws of nature. We are disciplining ourselves — which makes it easier to discipline other aspects of our lives (such as gossip).
We are offering a sacrifice.
And so maybe today, just today: no alligator. No capybara. No fish fry.
Just good old prayer and self-denial, rising above physicality.
[resources: The Medjugorje Fasting Book]