Why Do We Fast?
Mar 20, 2019
Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. Acts of the Apostles 14:23
Each year when we begin Lent, we hear those three observances of this season: Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving. Fasting is the reduction of the intake of food or actions. We hear a lot about fasting these days. What is the good in fasting? Today people are fasting from carbs, technology, from food in general. People do intermittent fasting in order to lose weight and boost their metabolism. All this fasting people do for themselves, which isn’t all bad. But the idea of fasting in the Christian tradition for the good of our own spiritual lives has a deeper effect.
For the most part, my personality is pretty easy-going with a few Irish complexities thrown in. But I’ve been known to get a little short when I’m tired or hungry. Growing up, I have a clear memory about me being hungry. For the sake of telling the story, before entering the monastery, my name was Michael. One afternoon after school we were driving to the grocery store to pick up a few things. I was sitting in the back seat with my sisters. We were talking, and I may have gotten a little short with my sister, who wasn’t being particularly annoying, at least that day. She yelled to my mom, “Mom, Mikey’s hungry!”, which made me even more angry because she was right. I was being mean and I was hungry. It was like hunger transformed my personality. I later learned a term for being angry when you’re hungry: Hangry.
So, why do we fast if it’s so difficult for some of us? Fasting has been a part of the ancient spiritual traditions of the Church. There was the “total fast” before major feasts and receiving the sacraments, along with a “fast of abstinence” meaning fasting from certain foods, like meat. Fasting is associated with watching or waiting for something to happen. Jesus tells us in the gospel about some types of demons that can only be cast out through prayer and fasting. We have references to fasting in the Old Testament and the Prophets. The Jewish people, in fact, entire nations, used to fast around major holy days. So, why do we fast?
The fast is the weapon of protection against demons. Saint Basil the Great.
In the Christian life, we fast as a way of self-discipline and self-control, out of love for God. Our intention for fasting should not be for dietary reasons or selfish reasons, but a way of allowing God into our hearts. By eating a little or a lot less, we allow God to fill those spaces with His love and graces. We unite those little sufferings to His and for those of the world. When we give up something we rely more on Christ and God alone.
Fasting means giving something up and putting things aside. It means having a hunger for something or someone else. We, in these times - which are good for us - form a healthy dependence on something, or more importantly, someone else. We can also fast by giving up more of ourselves and our desires. By this giving up, we are giving room for Christ to come into our hearts and our lives.
We should strive to fast from ourselves and give ourselves over to Christ in those times when we think and believe we can do everything on our own, when we think and believe we have control. When we try to go at life alone, we can block out Christ and His grace and love for us. We block out the help He wants so much to give us.
Let us turn to Christ in our fasting this Lent. By our sacrifices, small and great, we allow Christ to come into our hearts, who alone fills our greatest desires.
Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love. Saint Therese of the Child Jesus
God bless you and your families,
Father Aidan, OSB