Fast and Abstinence? But it's not Lent!

Fast and Abstinence?  But it’s not Lent!


When is a good time to fast and/or abstain?  Well, Lent for sure.  It goes without saying that Lent as the preparatory time preceding Easter is the main time most of us really think a lot about fasting and abstaining.  However, these penitent acts are more than just skipping the chocolate goodies for the 40 days before Easter. 


We are bound by divine law to do penance in our own personal ways.  For some, perhaps Lent is the absolute perfect time, and no other times of the year seem to work.  For others, observing days/acts of penance can occur just about any time.  For example, what about observing a period of penitential acts in thanksgiving for gifts granted?  For me, this time is right now.  Having just completed my Master of Science Degree, I feel I need to thank God for granting me the time, funds, energy, and abilities to take on and complete the program. 


Canon Law 1249 states:

“The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way.  In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observances of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence, according to the norm of the following [canons 1250-1253] canons”.  (Beal,  New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law. 2000)


What this says is that we are still obligated to observe specific penitential days as set by the Church, we are also free to choose individual penance.  Taking on any length of penitential observance is a way to keep our heads clear and thoughts pointed in the right direction.  After all, our goal is to get to Heaven, and what better way than thanking God for the gifts he has given us through the simple acts of penance?  For me, giving God a mere 40 days is a drop in the bucket compared to the gifts I’ve been given through my education and even broader- my life.   


Where to start.  I was given a book by a friend nearly a year ago.  I have just now managed to open it and begin to read it with the purpose it was originally designed.  It is a book about penance, living a penitent life, and prayer.  It covers a 40-day period and works great during Lent.  However, it also works great any other time the need for such observances is felt. 


If you don’t have a book, and don’t want to jump into a 40-day obligation, just start simply.  You can work on abstaining from junk food, soda, social media, etc. for a few days a week.  Adding daily exercise, prayer (rosary and/or the divine mercy chaplet are good ones) or works of mercy whether corporal or spiritual for a set time can be helpful.  Also, consider adding an examination of conscience and reconciliation at least once during your time of penance and reflection. 


What happens if a day is missed?  Well, just start it up again the next day.  Only you will know the reasons something was missed, and only you, and God, can determine if it was missed due to reasons beyond your control, or was it simply because of our own concupiscence or sloth? Or did you just forget? Again, the answer is not to give up, but to start it again. 


The book I talked about above, does not say the 40 days MUST be all in a row.  Admittedly, I have missed some days.  At first, I was discouraged and wanted to quit.  However, picking up the book and starting again where I left off has been quite satisfying.  I am not giving in totally to not following the observations it has, it’s just going to take me longer than a 40-day period to get through them all. 


As a lay person, giving my view of our Church, I believe God is happy with the efforts we put towards improving ourselves.  Our goal is always to get to heaven and any step, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction. 


If you are interested in the book mentioned in this post:

Let Freedom Ring (A 40-Day Tactical Training for Freedom from the Devil)

By: Fr. James Altman, Fr. Richard Heilman, Fr. William Peckman

Published by Mater Media (

Copyright 2021


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