Why Abstain?

Over the past few weeks I’ve been wrestling with the realization that I no longer appreciate feasts. I became poignantly aware of this last Christmas. It was not that I wasn’t enjoying the day, but rather that it felt no different than the many days before it. The weeks leading up to the Christmas feast were busy with parties, filled with delectable sweets and savoury meals. It was at my Christmas dinner that I realized what was amiss: I can’t fully appreciate a feast if I have not fasted.

It seems to me that we live in a culture of abundance; we are surrounded by luxury. Coffee shops stand on every corner, restaurants line our streets offering plentiful meals, and our grocery stores are filled all year long with fruits, vegetables and meats that people even fifty years ago could not access. While sadly not everyone is able to enjoy these things, many of us still do every day. Yet do we really appreciate all these wonderful things?

There is a profound wisdom in the practice of abstinence during Lent. It is too easy for us to allow our possessions and enjoyments to cloud our vision of God and reality. When we make simple sacrifices, whether they are giving up certain foods or pleasures, we allow ourselves the opportunity to become more aware of what is around us.

Furthermore, our practice of abstinence may allow us to grow in solidarity with those who go without. It is much more difficult for us to be with those who experience poverty if we constantly indulge in the many luxuries that surround us.

I now realize that the dedication of time for abstaining and fasting before the great feasts of the Church year enables us to fully experience the joy of feasts. A friend of mine reminded me of this the other day: we cannot experience the joy of the resurrection if we have not first embraced the cross. Her reminder helped to bring closure to my own struggle. I must go without if I am to enjoy the fruits of the feast.

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