Friday, August 14, 2009

Fasting, the secular way

Many Catholics consider it a challenge to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. When you consider what prisoners in Canada’s prisons do each year for Prisoners Justice Day, however, we might want to rethink how hard we have it.

There’s none of our “two small meals that together are less than the main meal, which can’t include meat.” Inmates in Canada go on a total fast from midnight to midnight, every Aug. 10.

Their fast is a secular one, in memory of prisoners who have lost their lives in the prison system.

I spoke with one inmate at a local institution who talked about the prisoners of the past whose sacrifice helped to bring about the comparatively civilized system they have today.

The respect the inmates have for those who died a generation ago brings to mind the honour we have for the saints who witnessed the faith in their lives and deaths. “I just do the thing with no eating because I honour it, for the guys who gave their lives for us, so we can have things like TVs and microwaves on the unit and stuff like that.”

The temptation to eat on Justice Day must be extraordinary. The prison kitchens serve up the food as usual. The prisoners simply don’t eat it, and they abstain without the spiritual graces that aid us in fasting. (Although they're no doubt assisted by the threat of violence from other inmates should anyone be so foolhardy as to break the fast.)

Perhaps the prisoners could benefit from a devotion to St. Lawrence. Not only is his feast day Aug. 10, but he’s also the patron saint of cooks.

Meantime, let’s keep prisoners in our prayers. “For I was in prison and you visited me.” Matthew 25:16.

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