Join our Lenten Campaign 2024.
In anticipation of the beginning of Lent, as Ash Wednesday will come early in 2024, the Norbertine community of St. Michael’s Abbey in California had a discussion about fasting.
The brief video, released from the abbey’s YouTube channel, provides some history on Catholic fasting and some clarifications on just how much we are called to fast, while including some helpful tips to stay on task during the 40 days of Lent.
In the video, Fr. Ambrose Criste interviews Fr. Norbert Wood, a man with an incredible wealth of Catholic knowledge, history, and quotations at his fingertips.
Fr. Criste begins by asking how the faithful should approach fasting, a practice by which we emulate Christ’s time in the desert when he went without food for 40 days in preparation for his Passion. Fr. Wood explains that “fasting has nothing to do with dieting, but it has everything to do with [spiritual] growth and holiness.”
“When we’re talking about fasting, we should be talking about a generous, generous living of our faith in ways that really go outside of the norm.”
He noted that in the Middle Ages, every day of Lent was a fast day that was observed by Christians of all ages. Today, we are only called to fast on two days of Lent: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and rather than strictly keeping to just one meal, we are allowed two additional smaller meals.
Fr. Wood lamented this “dismantling” of the “beautiful and ancient practice of going deep during the season of Lent.”
“It’s the greatfast, in preparation for the greatfeast. So, it better be something great that we’re trying to offer humbly to God. Think of all of the preparation for a marriage in our family and how much goes into that. What are we putting into Lent? What are we giving the Lord?”
The Norbertine pointed to 1 Corinthians 9:27, in which St. Paul writes: “But I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection.” He explained that this “punishing” of the body makes the mind and the soul lighter to better facilitate prayer. Prayer, in turn, leads to a growth of virtue and we can become holy, bringing this holiness to the world to make it a better place.
The Canons Regular living in St. Michael’s Abbey take special care in their fasting, because both of their Holy Fathers, St. Augustine and St. Norbert, “loved fasting.”
St. Augustine instructed Christians to fast as much as their health would allow and St. Norbert fasted every day for the rest of his life after his conversion. This undertaking was a means of reparation for all the years that St. Norbert had not been Christian, years the saint regarded as “wasted.”
“The world is out of balance, the spiritual world, and we need to bring that equilibrium back through our fasting. Elevate the mind, restrain vices, grow virtue, and reap the rewards of virtue. It’s all God’s work and that’s the beauty of Lent… There’s all these graces that pour through the practice that are not there when we’re doing it the rest of the year.”
Fr. Wood’s tips for Lent were quite simple. When asked what to do when fasting gets too hard, he says “keep going.” Similarly, when someone asks him what to do when prayer gets too hard, he says “keep praying.”
“And, of course, watch your health, but St. Teresa Avila famously said ‘I don’t know anybody that has ever ruined their health by fasting too much.’ On the contrary, people are always afraid that they’ll go too far. So don’t be afraid.”
For a short video, it’s filled with wisdom that will help viewers approach Lenten fasting with a more reverent attitude. The video is rounded out by beautiful shots of St. Michael’s Abbey, which only adds to its value. Follow St. Michael’s Abbey’s YouTube channel to see more inspiring videos like this.