A Cheatsheat to Fasting

We are in the season of Lent right now, and most of us would probably have already begun fasting in different ways. But something we need to ask ourselves is - What is our motivation behind our fasts?

There have been times when I thought of fasting as a type of diet. Perhaps I’ve eaten a lot over the week, and so I ‘fast’ on one particular day, with the hope that this would somehow balance out the calorie intake.

Other times, I would make the effort to fast without thinking of it as a one-day diet, but then I’d forget to Pray. I’d forget that I can offer up every rumble of my hungry tummy for a good intention.

Sometimes, I’m even tempted to feel proud that “I’m fasting and they’re not. Therefore, I’m so holy.” Yes, I know, this is such a cringe-worthy thought to have, but unfortunately, it does happen.

The question is, why is fasting such a big deal in our faith? Why do we fast during Lent? Why did great saints like St. Thomas Aquinas promotes such an austere practice?

There are plenty of resources online that answer the what, why, when, and how of fasting. But all of this information can seem quite intimidating, right? It almost seems too vast for our human mind to process.

That is why I’ve decided to break it down for you in the form of a cheat-sheet, to make your Lent a little less difficult and a lot more meaningful.

What is fasting? Fasting is mainly the wilful refraining from food or drink, although it can sometimes also refer to the refraining from a certain pleasurable act or object. The ultimate objective of fasting is to deny ourselves and grow closer to God.

“Fasting is the change of every part of our life, because the sacrifice of the fast is not the abstinence but the distancing from sins.” - St. John Chrysostom

Why do we fast? I would recommend this video by the well-known Fr. Mike Schmitz, who explains four reasons for fasting in a pretty concise manner:

Do you wish your prayer to fly toward God? Make for it two wings: Fasting and almsgiving.” St. Augustine

When do we fast?

Catholics are mainly required to fast twice a year - Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On these days, they can have only one full meal and two smaller meals. Apart from this, Catholics can fast at other times for other reasons, as mentioned above, taking into account health requirements and age.

How do we fast?

There are different types of fasts that we can carry out:

  • Complete Fast - We avoid consuming any kind of food or drink.

  • Regular Fast - We avoid food, but we can drink water or juice.

  • Partial Fast - We avoid a certain type of food or a specific meal.

  • Material Fast - We avoid certain things or practices that may not be ideal in our relationship with God (For example, scrolling through social media for hours).

How we fast depends on what our end goal is. Are we looking for an answer to prayer? Are we making an act of penance? Are we trying to change something about ourselves?

Now, when we fast, we might feel an urge to tell everyone how difficult it is, or to show everyone that we are struggling but still sticking with our decision. What we need to remember is that when we fast, it is not meant to be an external display of our holiness, but rather, an interior conversion of our soul.

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” - Matthew 6:16-18

So whether you decide to give up a meal, a type of food, or a particular act, just make sure that you do it so cheerfully and willingly, that nobody even knows that you’re fasting until you explicitly tell them. Of course, the fast might genuinely be difficult for you, but the more effort you make to quietly bear up the discomfort (as Jesus did for us during His Passion), the greater the blessings you will receive.

Just remember, God knows us. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. If we are really struggling with a particular fast, and we keep failing, we mustn’t give up. We just need to get back up and try again. But we need to make sure that what we do is not massively harmful to us in any way. For example, someone with Coeliac disease may not be able to take on a fast of only bread and water. However, the person can choose some other type of food instead, that is harmless to their health. God doesn’t want us to harm ourselves for His sake - He loves us too much.

Last but not the least, during this Lent, as we continue with our fasts, we must not forget that no matter what we decide to ‘give up’, the one thing that we most definitely need to ‘take on’ is more prayer. Fasting and prayer can be used together as two powerful weapons - The one strengthens the other. To help you understand what I mean, I will leave you with a quote by Catholic Youtuber, Matt Fradd.

You could say that prayer without fasting is like boxing with one hand tied behind your back, and that fasting without prayer is, well, dieting.” Matt Fradd

~ Nikita S.

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