“Ask a Priest: Should I Skip Fasting If Lodging With a Family?”

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Q: I know that the obligatory fasting times for Catholics are during Lent and that we are also encouraged to include fasting and abstinence in our day-to-day or weekly schedule. In regards to this, I used to follow that schedule by fasting every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Also, on those days, I do not include meat in my meals as part of penance. However, I have moved to college and am now staying with a local family in a home-stay accommodation. They have certain times for meals, and certain things they eat, which mostly include meat. Should I still stick to the fasting and abstinence since I am now living communally with a family that is not mine and that might have to adjust their way of life? Or should I just eat whatever is placed on the table, whenever it’s placed? If not, please suggest other ways I could include penance in my daily work without being such a fuss to the family that is now caring for me. Your reply would be really appreciated. – C.M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It’s great that you want to include fasting and prayer in your schedule.

At a minimum, Catholics are asked to fast only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Outside of Lent, the Friday abstinence from meat is a good practice, in part because it witnesses to others about your faith.

So, it would be good to see your lodging with this family as a chance to evangelize them through your example.

In practice that means you might tell them ahead of time that on Fridays you won’t be eating meat. They need not prepare anything different for you — you might just rely on other foodstuffs to sustain yourself that day.

Your plan to fast three days a week, however laudable, is certainly beyond the normal requirements of Catholics.

If you find that three days of fasting and abstinence don’t leave you with enough nourishment to keep up with your college work (studies can be draining!), then you might consider adjusting your mix of sacrifices.

For instance, you might limit your fasting and abstinence to Fridays, and instead offer up a rosary or 15 minutes of Eucharistic adoration on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

In any case, on a day-to-day basis we can practice penance by accepting the normal hardships of life without complaint.

We can also mortify ourselves by limiting our use of media (TV, videos) and our use of goods (choose modest brands instead of luxury items). We can also mortify ourselves by our modesty in speech and dress, and by our universal charity.

Do all that, and you can be on the road to holiness.

For more reading see the U.S. bishops’ conference webpage on Fast & Abstinence.

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One Comment
  1. Another good answer to this faithful student. It is good to retain the Friday fasting from meat, and I’m sure as Father suggested you can explain this faith practice to the family giving you room and board (food). Explain to them that you will be eating your main dinner in the college cafeteria: maybe fish and a salad, or vegetable platter, or pasta of some type and salad. OR eat dinner in a local diner. Just be honest to your host and explain why you can’t eat the meal as usual on Friday. It might lead to the discussion of the Catholic faith and Christian living BUT… don’t get drawn into ‘debate’ of the actions of faith with Christian of another faith practice.

    There are other ways of doing penance (thank you Father for those suggestions I had not thought of)

    Another penitential act is that of attending Daily Mass, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday (if your schedule matches with daily Mass in a local parish church) OFFERING UP your good work and study habits on college campus and life itself for (your host family perhaps, or any others in need of prayers or generally for our nation) Simply doing without dessert Wednesday, Friday, Saturday also penitential, IF doing if for a cause. (not just to lose weight)

    Congrats on being a faithful, quiet Christian of Catholic faith practice. Don’t try to explain it to anyone as Father said, just set the ‘right example’ of how we are to live.

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