Ash Wednesday begins 40 days of fasting

GVL / Rachel Iturralde

Rachel Iturralde

GVL / Rachel Iturralde Fasting

Liz Garlick

Under the stress of rigorous courses, relationship maintenance and the dynamic college lifestyle, many students find comfort in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and a bag of Lay’s potato chips.

But for some Catholic students at Grand Valley State University, the season of Lent is almost upon them, and fasting is undertaken as a challenge to improve one’s life spiritually and socially.

Though the season of Lent varies from year-to-year, beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter Sunday, the traditions remain the same: many Christians, and some non-Christians, take the time to rid their lives of vices to better themselves and remind themselves of the important things in life.

Although Catholics are only encouraged to abstain from food on two days during the 40-day celebration, they engage in a fast of their choice for the entire season.

The Rev. Donald Andrie, associate pastor at GVSU’s St. Luke’s Parish, said Lent is a perfect opportunity of finding self-discipline and fasting in order to focus more on God and one’s spiritual and social priorities in life. Andrie said fasting is not just giving up sweets, but could also be giving up an activity that deviates from one’s priorities, such as video games or Facebook, or adding on an activity to improve other people’s lives.

“America is a culture that is fairly self-indulgent,” he said, adding that it is important to recognize these indulgences during this holiday.

Krysta Thelen, an officer of the GVSU Catholic Student Association, said she decided to fast during Lent every day.

“This tested my inner strength, and deepened my faith that the Lord would help me to understand why I was doing this and not for myself,” she said. “In the end we (Thelen and her fianc?©) were both rewarded with a better understanding of our spiritual hunger and longing for God, and became even closer to Him and to each other.”

Cynthia Lykins, another officer of the CSA, said fasting has helped her develop self-discipline.

“Since I’ve started making more choices on my own since I’ve been in college, it’s forced me to figure out what my motives are behind my actions,” Lykins said. “The most challenging part of fasting is actually saying no to and giving up something that’s valuable and pleasurable to you.”

Catholic students aren’t the only ones that fast, though.

Many faith groups practice fasting during religious holidays, like the Islamic celebration of Ramadan, which begins July 20 and ends Aug. 18 this year.

Gamal Gasim, professor of political science and Middle East Studies at GVSU, said fasting is extremely important to Muslims because it is one of the five pillars of Islam.

“There is no excuse for (Muslim) students not to fast,” Gasim said, adding that it is a beautiful challenge to motivate them to work harder and focus more.

He also added that some of the greatest achievements of Islamic history have occurred during Ramadan, including the collapse of Libya last year.

Gasim and Andrie said fasting can be strenuous at times, especially for busy students, and exceptions can be made.

“During Ramadan, sick people, travelers and women who are pregnant don’t have to fast, but they are supposed to make up the days that they missed at some other point in the year,” said Coeli Fitzpatrick, coordinator of the Middle Eastern Studies program at GVSU. “Most Christians will eat something, even during Lent, so they are less likely to get sick from fasting, but it is not unusual for Muslims to feel weak during Ramadan, especially if they are doing sports or manual labor.”

Both faiths put a strong emphasis on focusing on the most important aspects of life, and with Lent starting Wednesday, indulgences and priorities will soon be assessed.

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