Answer: Good question! Since the Protestantizers squeezed an imaginary "spirit" out of Vatican Two and threw out many of our cherished Catholic traditions in the name of reform*, Catholics have been dazed and confused about abstinence and fasting.
The two are easily distinguished:
Abstinence: abstaining from eating X (usually meat).
Fasting: eating less of everything.
On Friday's during Lent, Catholic abstain from meat and fast. Fasting usually entails eating one small meal and two snacks. Check your diocesan website for specific regulations.
There are as many reasons for abstaining and fasting as there are Catholics. Traditionally, the Lenten abstinence and fast is meant to rekindle in us a deep sense of humility, that is, a profound awareness that we are totally dependent on God for everything we have. This evokes gratitude, which strengthens humility.
Most Catholics usually "give up" something for Lent as well; for example, coffee, smoking, chocolate, booze, etc. I encourage Catholic to "take up" a devotional practice (rosary, Adoration, weekly confession) or focus on amending a habitual sin (gossip, missing Sunday Mass).
Here's the thing: being a faithful Catholic isn't supposed to be easy! We've spent the last forty years trying to rub the hard edges off our faith in order to "fit in" with our Protestant Betters. This has largely been a project of the Baby Boomers who find their grandparents' peasant Catholicism to be an embarrassment.
The effort to Americanize the Church has led to numerous problems, including (but not limited to) a lazy attitude toward fulfilling the Sunday Mass obligation, frequent confession, the Lenten fast, and a general decline in the morality of Catholics across the board (use of contraception, abortion, co-habitation). Not to mention a dramatic decline in young men and women answering their call to serve the Church as priests and religious.
Nowhere in scripture, the Church Fathers, conciliar documents, or magisterial teaching will you read anything like the following, "Being Catholic is easy! Just be nice to people and do what you can when you can!"
Our faith demands perseverance, constant attention, and prayer. Human beings are fundamentally good. We are creatures of a loving God Who wants us to use His gifts to improve ourselves, to make ourselves holy for His greater glory!
Yes, God loves you just the way you are. God is love, so loving is what He does by nature. But He loves you SO THAT you will grow in righteousness. One small way to jump start that process is to observe the Church's regulations on the Lenten fast.
To borrow from the world of American commerce: JUST DO IT!
*The actual documents of VC2 call for "renewal" and "repair."
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