A Lenten Poem – a Reflection on Fasting

A Lenten Poem – a Reflection on Fasting

by Paul Brian Campbell SJ                     U.S.A.                         26.03.2023

My favorite Lenten poem comes from Robert Herrick (1591-1674).

Is this a Fast, to keep
The larder lean,
And clean,
From fat of veals and sheep?

Is it to quit the dish
Of flesh, yet still
To fill
The platter high with fish?

Is it to fast an hour,
Or rag’d to go
Or show
A downcast look or sour?

No; ‘tis a Fast to dole
Thy sheaf or wheat
And meat,
Unto the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife.
From old debate,
And hate;
To circumcise thy life.

To show a heart grief-rent,
To starve thy sin,
Not bin;
And that’s to keep thy Lent.

Its argument, of course, is that it more important to stay true to the spirit of Lent than merely follow the rules of the season. In Lent, the Church asks us to fast, to show compassion and be generous to the less fortunate among us and to pray. Admittedly, we do talk about “fast and abstinence” but I’ve always thought that we are maybe too diligent about the abstinence part of Lent and not as assiduous as we might be about the prayer and generosity dimensions of the Lenten journey.

It’s why I haven’t “given up” anything for many years, but each Lent I try to do something extra. I don’t have much money but I give what I can to our local food bank and I’m taking the time to pray more in gratitude for the abundance of blessings in my life.

I’m trying to starve my sin, as the poem says, and I hope I’m keeping a true enough Lent.