Father Steve examines the Church’s practice of abstinence and fasting as a means to support the demands of our mission in Christ. This article is a first in a series of reflections offered by the Word on Fire staff in regards to the Lenten practices of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.
A few months ago, my good friend Ben Wellenbach, who is an athletic trainer extraordinaire, challenged me to clean up my diet. Now, here’s the thing about that—I am not someone who would be inclined (at least at this point in my life) to diet so as to lose weight. I exercise regularly and do so (I would like to think) with the ferocity of a trained athlete. For me, physical training is as integral to one’s capacity to serve the Church’s mission as a priest as is fidelity to the promises of the priestly state of life, intellectual curiosity, and dedication to the practices of prayer. Ben invited me to change my diet because he observed that what training I did accomplish would remain at a status quo level until I modified my diet.
Anyone who has ever met me knows that there is something amusing about Ben’s recommendation: my favorite foods are oatmeal and broccoli (eaten separately of course). I am not a gourmand, and I eat mostly for energy or to take away the hungry feeling rather than to indulge in pleasure of savory treats. You won’t find me loading up on desserts at the Old Country Buffet. The amount of processed foods I was eating at the time of Ben’s recommendation would probably be, for most folks, considered austere.
What precisely would I have to change? Ben’s recommendations basically had me sacrificing the oatmeal and eating more of the broccoli. The other adjustments were minor. He had me eating foods that God made and that were prepared with as little creaturely intervention as possible.
After nine weeks I dropped almost 20 pounds.
But I didn’t get skinny or weak. In fact, the evidence of any weight loss was mostly in my waist and nowhere else. In terms of athletic performance, I got stronger, and in terms of the rest of my life’s endeavors, I became more focused. Basically, what Ben mostly asked of me was to abstain from foods that I preferred to eat, not foods that were necessary for survival, or even from things that were tasty. There was no real fasting, but I did discover that on the occasion when I just couldn’t get to the office without first having breakfast, my capacity to endure a lack of food did not send me into a tailspin. The change in diet compelled my metabolism to become more efficient and to deal better with having less. The positive effect far outweighed any feeling of deprivation...