Must the Afflicted Fast in Lent?
What about invalids and the physically challenged who live with pain and hardship? Are they bound to observe the Lenten strictures of fasting and abstinence? I hope not. They have enough to contend with! BB
When God promised a Redeemer to deliver humanity from its suffering due to sin, he did not then send an angel who would make a dramatic appearance in the sky and shout out: “You are all saved now and free from sin and pain!”
He sent his Son instead, the Second Person of the Trinity, to be born of a woman and become as human as we are, immediately sharing in our struggles in life.
Jesus Christ took on human affliction fairly and squarely. He did not pretend that it was an illusion or could be avoided or stoically endured: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).
He suffered and died to deliver us from sin and death. He absorbed himself into fallen human nature, so that we are now absorbed into his act of redemption, an act steeped in pain, grief and death.
Such is our unity with Christ’s healing sacrifice that he now asks us to unite our own sorrows, sufferings and death with his. In other words, he asks us to offer ourselves to the Father with him in his unique work of human redemption.
St Paul wrote: “In my own body I do what I can to make up all that is still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church” (Col 1:24).
As long as we consciously and every day offer our afflictions to him and with him, we are doing acts of penance for the sin of humanity. This is important if our sufferings are to have any meaning in our Christian lives.
When the season of Lent comes around, canon law says: “All Christ’s faithful are obliged by divine law, each in his or her own way, to do penance. However, so that all may be joined together in a certain common practice of penance, days of penance are prescribed” (c1249). These acts include prayer, works of piety and charity, self-denial, fast and abstinence.
Christians who are physically challenged and in pain and discomfort already unify their hardships with Christ in this way. During Lent they need to have a real awareness that this is the time when the whole Church is with them in a common practice of penance.
They don’t have to do more than this but they should at least pray and feel with the Church.
Honest penance comes from the heart and not from the precepts of canon law.