Go Slow. Fast.

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In her second "last Lent," Lisa Calderone-Stewart still finds value in fasting.

By Guest Blogger Lisa Calderone-Stewart

Fasting is all about going slower.

A child once suggested to me, “Why not call it ‘slowing’ instead of ‘fasting’?” Good point!

Every year, at the beginning of Lent, we hear about prayer, alms, and fasting. People often say, “I understand why we should pray more, and give alms to the poor. But why fast? How does that help anything?”

First of all, what is fasting? It means different things to different people.

Years ago, at an interfaith dialogue with Catholics, Jews, and Muslims, we asked the teenagers what they learned. One Catholic girl surprised us with this self-revelation: “I learned that Catholics are wimps! When we fast, we still get to eat three meals a day!”

She said this after learning the Muslim and Jewish concepts of fasting. Fasting for Yom Kippur means not eating anything from sundown the day before until sundown the following day. Muslims do not eat or drink, from sunup to sundown, for the entire month of Ramadan.

When she explained that Catholics fast by having one “small” main meal and two other “smaller” meals, you can imagine how she felt. She kept repeating, “They don’t even drink water when they fast! We Catholics are such wimps!”

So, why fast?

Life is too hectic for us to notice anything.  Fasting not only slows us down, it makes us more humble. We realize how dependent we are on food. Instead of feeling entitled to our wealth, we get a sense of our limitations. We experience a bit of solidarity with the poor – with those who only have a bowl of rice and a swallow of water each day. We can allow God to come into our lives in a deeper way and remind us who we are. We start to feel less arrogant and we better appreciate our blessings. Fasting has all these benefits.

Physical fasting has health benefits as well. Cleaning out the system and getting rid of toxic “junk food” is always a good idea. Cleaning out the “emotional junk” and getting rid of whatever can poison our spiritual lives is even better. Luxuries can distract us from what’s important. So giving up a luxury we have come to depend on, especially one that has some negative consequences, is a form of fasting. So is taking on something positive and beneficial.

It’s hard work preparing for Easter. It’s difficult – maybe even frightening – to admit your worse sins, and still struggle to face God, feel forgiven, and find renewed energy to change your ways.

Ultimately, the 40 days of Lent lead us to Good Friday, and that forces us to consider our own death – whenever, however, it will occur. That’s never easy, even for those of us who are already engaged in the dying process.

A year ago, I was certain that I was going through my very last Lent. And here I am, starting the process all over again. As it turns out, last year might have been my “second-last Lent,” and this year might be my second “last Lent!”

Part of me cries out, “Do I really want to do this again?” Naturally, I am reluctant. Isn’t this dying thing enough? Somehow, dying during Lent seems redundant!

Prayer, almsgiving, and especially fasting – it’s a tall order to take Lent seriously and to be open to what God calls us to become. Especially for us wimps.

Good thing we have 40 days. 


Guest blogger Lisa Calderone-Stewart was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year. For more on her story, see "The dying wish of a youth ministry pioneer." You can also read Lisa's personal blog Dying to Know You Better, and she has a novel, Made To Write, available at the link. 

Her blog posts on USCatholic.org can be found at Final Thoughts.Lisa was the director of Tomorrow's Present and an author and speaker on youth leadership. Read more about her interfaith youth program in Student Teachers, from January 2006.

This blog post was adapted from an article published in Pastoral Liturgy Magazine (March 2008, page 17). It is re-fitted and reprinted with permission.

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.