I’m a Catholic priest who fasts for Ramadan. Here’s what it taught me about Lent.


Several years ago, not knowing at all what it would entail, I Googled a question: How do you keep Ramadan?

In the spring of 2019, after a series of high profile attacks on Muslim people in New York City and a reported rise in Islamophobia, I felt compelled to act in tangible solidarity with this vulnerable and targeted community.

It just so happened that Ramadan was starting the next day. I decided I would observe its discipline of fasting as a way of accompaniment and solidarity.

I knew this sacred time in the Islamic tradition meant abstaining from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset, but I discovered it was even more rigorous.

You fast from dawn—that is, even before the sun rises—until sunset.

It also did not occur to me then that when Ramadan (the dates of which are determined by a lunar calendar) falls in the spring, with each passing day, sunrise comes earlier and sunset moves later.

Unlike Lent, where the tendency is to count down the days to Easter—or to look forward to the permissible reprieve on Sundays, when the Lenten penance can be suspended — fasting gradually becomes harder through the duration of Ramadan.

Years later, I still observe this sacred Islamic time’s practice of fasting. It heightens my awareness of the afflictions that so many are forced to endure and the ways our world still needs healing.

Two years ago, for example, I used the Ramadan fast to pray for the people of Ukraine, and also to become more aware of the little things I take for granted.

I could, for example, turn on my faucet in the morning and expect water would run. For millions of people in Ukraine, that was and still is not something they can assume.

I was also able to teach my classes at Fordham uninterrupted. Many children in Ukraine are still unable to go to school.

That’s the gift of fasting; it attunes us with a deeper level of reality. The discipline of fasting helps me to see the world as God sees it.

Fasting has helped me to look at the world around me in a new way: We are all vulnerable, but we are not all vulnerable in the same way or to the same degree.

The American way of life

The first two weeks of my first Ramadan fast, I felt kind of proud of myself.

“I can actually do this!” I thought. But it gradually became more mentally and physically exhausting.

I learned, as I read more about Ramadan, that it was not simply about the external practice of refraining from food or liquids.

Ramadan, for Muslims, is a time to become aware of all that is going on around you so that you can come closer to God (or Allah, as the Holy One is named in Islam).

The hunger pains experienced are supposed to help the one fasting become more aware of those who go hungry without choice.

What I voluntarily endure over this annual month-long daytime fasting period is something so many in our world endure without choice.

However hungry or depleted I might feel, I can eagerly anticipate the end of the day when I can break the fast. For far too many the burdens of hunger will only increase as their bodies consistently go without food.

The American way of life is one that avoids the reality of vulnerability. We don’t like to dwell on the fact that many people wonder where their next meal is coming from. We presume we are to live a comfortable lifestyle. Read more

  • The Rev. Bryan N. Massingale is a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and a professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University.
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