By Laura Ann Phillips
Chronic gastritis and the absence of a gall bladder dictate you have several small meals a day. Or your doctor says you need daily meat protein. But, it’s Lent! And you’re supposed to be fasting!
But, if you’re under doctor’s orders, and are tempted to tweak how often or what you eat, medical practitioners and the Church agree: don’t.
“Anybody who tries to do that is not thinking right,” said Dr Richard Clerk, a general practitioner for over 35 years. “You deny yourself of what? Sweets? Alcohol?
“Instead of denying yourself food, try to do something for somebody else,” he suggested from his Newtown, Port of Spain, practice.
Fr John Persaud, General Secretary of the Antilles Episcopal Conference of Bishops, agreed.
“I think unless we put it into context, we’re going to be in trouble,” he said.
Canon Law requires that persons aged 14 to 59 years observe the practice of fasting and abstinence on all the Fridays of the year and, particularly, the Fridays of Lent.
Fr John recalled earlier days when his Lenten fasts typically meant going without meals from morning to evening. Now, over 59 with particular health concerns, fasting of that kind is no longer an option.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me to do that when my body cannot do it,” he said, from the AEC Secretariat’s St Clair offices. “I’m putting my whole health and being at risk.”
In a 1985 statement, the AEC Bishops issued fasting guidelines that includes options for those unable to undertake food fasts:
Archbishop Jason Gordon, in a February 18 Catholic News column, “Conversations with Archbishop J”, urged “strict discipline” during Lent, noting that, “For us, fasting normally entails limiting our intake of food to one full meal and two smaller meals.”
He added, however, that the “real focus” was “not the austerity of the season”, but, “the deep change – conversion of heart – to which we are all called.”
A perspective echoed by Fr John.
“Fasting, almsgiving, prayer – these are tools,” he said. “So often we come so rigid, in terms of making the thing the end in itself. It’s not the end.
“The end game is about deepening my relationship with God which, at the same time, must be about my relationship with others. That’s the end game.”
As noted by Pope Francis in his 2018 Lenten Message. There is a practical aspect to fasting, he said: “(It) allows us to experience what the destitute and the starving have to endure.”
But, it also “wakes us up. It makes us more attentive to God and our neighbour. It revives our desire to obey God, who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger.”
(KINDLY NOTE: Pope Francis’ 2018 Lenten Message obtained from the Antilles Episcopal Conference website: http://aecbishops.org/holy-fathers-message-for-lent-2018/)