During Lent the Church asks us to perform penitential practices for 40 days so that we can fully embrace the joys of Easter. At the very least, we are asked to abstain from meat on Fridays and on Ash Wednesday, as well as to fast on two separate occasions (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday).
Why do we fast? Why do we deny ourselves bodily goods?
The Church is not against the body and the delights of a good meal; on the contrary, the Church gives us fasting and abstinence as ways to help us appreciate the goodness of the body as our temples of the Holy Spirit.
To explain, we are made of body and soul and are called to bring them into a proper relationship in pursuit of true peace and joy. The soul is to rule the body by saying no to excesses and yes to moderate enjoyment in which the body and soul can share. As St. Augustine explains, when the body rules over the soul, disorder reigns and guilt results; when the soul rules over the body, they both get what they truly want and we experience joy.
Fasting and abstinence, then, are practices of giving up something that is good for the sake of a higher good. We do not give up a full stomach or meat because they are bad for us, but because they are goods that can stand in the way of pursuing the highest good, God. St. Augustine uses romantic language when speaking about the human-divine drama:
"Our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee, O Lord."
Imagine a man at a Valentine's Day dinner so concerned about the taste of his food and how he will pay for the meal that he forgets to gaze into the eyes of the woman he loves! It is not that the taste of the food is unimportant nor that he shouldn't make sure that he is responsible with his finances, it is that he is missing the true purpose of pursuing these lower goods; we do not live to dine, but dine in order to live and love.
So, what does the Church ask of us during Lent?
These minimal Lenten observances should serve as a starting point for helping us to grow in the Lord. We are asked to search our souls and root out any attachment that holds us back from loving God with our whole hearts. If there are any habits you have formed that make it difficult to give yourself fully to God and to your neighbor in God, stamp them out. Give up these delights and be confident that God will replace them with higher, purer, and more satisfying ones. When you find it hard to get through the day because you don't have that morning cup of coffee, that mid-morning snack, or that chocolate that helps you unwind at the end of the day, turn to prayer and you will find consolation and peace in Him, the Creator of all earthly goods.