This is a commonly asked question by many non-Catholics, but also by many children and those who may be entertaining the idea of becoming a member of the Catholic Church. They have heard of this practice of giving up food or sacrificing something that gives one pleasure, however, they have never fully understood what purpose it serves in one’s spiritual journey.
The three traditional pillars of Lenten observance are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that fasting is meant to prepare us for the liturgical feast. One of the great benefits of fasting is it allows us to feel our hunger. So, getting in touch with our physical hunger is meant to get us in touch with our spiritual hunger for a more intimate relationship with God.
Bishop Robert Barron teaches the pleasures of the body have a way of becoming too domineering, so we fast from them purposely to allow the deeper hungers to arise. When you suppress certain desires, other deeper ones can emerge. Archbishop Coakley says, “Acts of fasting and self-denial help us to be less focused upon ourselves and more available to be attentive to the needs of those around us. Prayer and fasting open us up to the awareness of the needs of our brothers and sisters around us, which can be expressed beautifully in works of charity or the works of almsgiving.”
During Lent, one does not only have to focus on giving up something pleasurable. Instead, or in addition to, consider giving up some bad habit, meaning, fast from being judgmental, fast from your ego, or fast from finding more meaning in material things and find more meaning in building up your relationship with God. It is the hope of the church that in doing this, we will arrive at a deeper understanding of our own baptism and be lead to live it with a deeper commitment. The goal of Lent is not to arrive at the altar 20 pounds lighter, the goal of Lent for Christians to emerge at Easter resembling Jesus more profoundly.