Anyone who’s ever had the joy of having a houseful of teenage and 20-something males knows what I mean when I say that it’s all about the food. We buy vast quantities of the stuff, cook enormous meals and are aghast when we throw open the refrigerator only to find — again — too much empty space. Our George Foreman Lean Mean Fat Reducing Machine never quite cools down as burgers are prepared seemingly around the clock. This is all quite normal behavior for young men who burn more calories than race horses.
Of course, we kid around about all this, but for millions of families around the world, hunger is no joke. It’s a fact of life, a constant enemy that greedily stalks its victims. According to the World Health Organization, 6 million children die of hunger every year. Even here in the United States, many millions don’t have enough to eat.
Austin Weigel, a senior at Seton Catholic Prep in Chandler, knows firsthand what it means to have that nagging emptiness in your belly that won’t go away. Weigel, who has the lead role of Jesus Christ in the school’s production of the musical “Godspell,” began a voluntary fast 40 days before the Feb. 7 opening night performance.
Knowing that portraying the Savior of the world was a tall order, Weigel told me he wanted to do something to draw closer to God and his fellow cast members. In reading the Gospel of Matthew, the text that inspired Godspell, he came upon the account of Jesus’ fast in the desert and wondered if he should try something similar.
“I was worried that it would be too hard,” Weigel admitted. “Would it be one of those things that halfway through the day I would start getting hungry and my mind would wander and I wouldn’t be as focused?” He decided to talk it over with Fr. Chris Axline, Seton’s chaplain, and another priest.
They suggested that from sunup to sundown he wouldn’t eat. “I’d just get up in the morning and eat a very small meal but a substantial amount that would get me through at least half the day,” Weigel said. After sunset, he’d have a meal but no snacks.
He didn’t want anyone else to know what he was doing, but word eventually got around. I received an email about Weigel’s fast and was instantly intrigued. As a mom of five sons, I know what it means for a young man to go without food. They tend to get edgy and start feeling desperate in short order.
Weigel said fasting proved difficult at first but got a bit easier as the days went by. He learned he was stronger than he thought he was. He learned something else, too.
“It has become very apparent to me how blessed I am to be able to have food every single time of the day,” Weigel said. A lot of young people don’t.
“I’ve been able to walk around the campus and see that some students don’t bring a lunch, don’t eat a lunch, don’t have the money to go to the lunch line and pay for one,” Weigel said. “And since then, every single day, I pray just a simple prayer of thanksgiving. That’s what’s helping me get through this.”
As Lent approaches, I wonder if this young man’s example might just be food for thought for the rest of us. What are we planning to do to draw closer to the Lord this Lent? What are we willing to sacrifice to show God that we are sincere in our desire to turn away from sin and live the Gospel? How can we live in solidarity with the millions who suffer from hunger?
The world tells us that we need to consume more and more, that we ought to seek pleasure and avoid pain, that suffering is meaningless. A 17-year-old boy in our midst is willing to be a sign of contradiction in a troubled world. What about us?