Lent is quickly approaching, and I love to share this info every year, so I figured I’d put it in a blog post this time!
Here are the USCCB guidelines on fasting and abstinence. (Scroll way down to ‘Fasting’ and the FAQs)
Are there exemptions other than for age from the requirement to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday?
Those that are excused from fast and abstinence outside the age limits include the physically or mentally ill including individuals suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes. Also excluded are pregnant or nursing women. In all cases, common sense should prevail, and ill persons should not further jeopardize their health by fastingUSCCB – ‘What is Lent’
In her wisdom, the Catholic Church extends this kindness of excusal in recognition of the work pregnant and nursing mothers undertake. I personally urge women to accept this kindness with humility and gratitude. Just as we have to learn to accept temporal help like a meal train, we can learn to accept this wisdom from the Church.
To be transparent, for many years I thought I had to be ‘sick’ or ‘weak’ or…something ‘enough’ to accept this exemption. It was only when I was in my very rough 2nd pregnancy that I could admit that I simply couldn’t abstain or fast in any way. That shattering of my pride opened my eyes to the fact that I was trying to earn God’s favor through my actions, not lovingly serve Him as He asks.
I personally will not be choosing an alternate penance when I am unable to fast or abstain due to health, pregnancy, or nursing. I will humbly accept this care from the Church and acknowledge that I can do absolutely nothing to earn God’s favor. I can only rely on God.
In these years of the hard work of raising little children, I’ve chosen Lenten practices that make sense for my current life. I might commit to actually writing down a meal plan by Monday, or to stopping complaints in their tracks when it’s time to clean up a child’s pee. I might commit to spending the first 5 minutes of quiet time in prayer or spiritual reading, rather than reading purely for pleasure, or to a short walk. These can be physically stressful years, and as someone still learning to nourish my body, committing to food-related penances is not helpful for me. It can be so easy to take on a food-restrictive penance that looks a little too much like a diet or intermittent fasting. We rationalize to ourselves, “I’m doing this to grow in discipline, and, hey, if I lose a few pounds that’s good too!” Oh, the vanity.
To take the danger of filling my spiritual discipline with my own pride off the table, I pursue other practices. This year, I’m not pregnant or nursing, so I will follow the USCCB guidelines on fasting and abstinence, and will not push myself beyond that – as far as food is concerned.