Good Friday is usually a big deal at our house, not so much because of its liturgical significance but because it forces our culinary-inclined Italian family to rearrange our generous eating habits. The Church has prescribed 2 days out of the year for fasting as well as abstinence from meat, though Catholics are required to abstain from meat on every Friday during lent as well as Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
The post-Vatican-II fasting guidelines are much more generous than the Byzantine restrictions (I have a friend who follows these and he refrains from eating anything on Wednesdays and Fridays all throughout the year) and require all Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 to consume only one full meal with two smaller snacks that cannot both add up to a full meal. Also, no eating between meals is allowed, or supplementing with milkshakes (I know, but come on; if you really think about it, it makes sense).
For Italians (at least, the few that actually practice the faith), these days constitute huge sacrifices such as not having meatballs, no beef in the lasagna, and putting up with the complaining husbands and brothers when they return from a hard day at the office and only get a little bowl of soup with no second and third courses. Whadda acomadí!
At the present moment I am wondering if the rather large bowl of Greek yogurt I paid six dollars and 95 cents for in the cafeteria is enough to count as both breakfast and lunch, for which I was planning to eat a protein bar. And I’ve got to go to Old Man Dinner at 4:30 (the earliest the caf opens) otherwise I’m not going to be able to survive tonight’s Passion services at the Cathedral without an extreme case of the hunger grouchies and possibly a headache.
But then I had to stop and smack myself in the head with my breviary for missing the whole point of these two seemingly torturous and unfair days. First of all, let’s recall the whole meaning of fasting in the first place. Fasting is not the concoction of a bunch of evil bishops thirsting for bio-power over their parishioners, nor is it a continuation of the self-mortification practiced by lunatic fringe Christians in the Middle Ages. Rather, it is a simple but ingenious method of practicing self-control while reminding ourselves of our weakness and total dependence on God. We literally cannot survive even a single day without Him feeding us, protecting us, and sustaining our every breath. We usually don’t want to admit this, of course, and sometimes we might argue that there are better and less painful ways to achieve humility without forgoing our precious daily bread. But that is our pride speaking again, saying that we know better than the Church, who has carefully taught, refined, and perfected its teachings and doctrine for almost 2,000 years.
If you haven’t ever paid any attention to the fasting requirements on Good Friday and Ash Wednesday, I encourage you to observe them, starting now. But don’t make the mistake of charging into a day of self-denial without the proper vaccination of serious prayer. It is vital to realize that we can do nothing—not even fast—without a generous outpouring of God’s grace. So take about 10 minutes or so to rededicate your life and actions to Jesus. Then start small by maybe only drinking water as your beverage of choice, or only eating soup for lunch and dinner, or perhaps going gluten-free for a day (this is easier than you might think). By making the resolution to refrain from little pleasures, even for a day or a few hours, we are allowing this grace to enter and purify us.
One final thing to realize is that, on Good Friday especially, fasting is the least we can do to thank Jesus for what He did for us. Even while on the cross, dehydrated and nearly delirious from loss of blood, paralyzed with pain, so thirsty He could barely speak, He refused the wine and myrrh they offered Him even though no one could have deserved anything more. This should make us think twice about complaining about the loss of our pulled pork sandwich. In fact, it should literally make us ashamed of how little we have done to properly thank Jesus for everything He sacrificed.
Think of the last time you did something for a friend and they never thanked you or even acknowledged it. Was that painful? Did it make you angry? Certainly. Now think if you had sacrificed your own life for a friend and they never even bothered to attend your funeral? Wow, some friend. You know where I’m going with this.
A priest once told me that “Jesus died for every stinkin’ one of us.” Nothing could be more true. While Jesus was hanging on the cross, He knew He would bring thousands upon thousands of souls to heaven, but He also foresaw the thousands more who would consciously reject Him, trample on His sacrifice, and choose Hell. But He sacrificed his life anyway.
So tell Jesus “thank you” today by giving up something you want, no matter how small, and allow your heart to be receptive to the grace He died to give you.