Fasting During Lent
“This is the kind of Fasting I want, says the Lord; Free those are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free. Remove the claims that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, do not hide from relatives who need your help” – Isaiah: 58:6
Fasting and doing penance is fundamental during this Lenten period as we celebrate the paschal feast. The Catholic Church requires us to fast on days like Ash Wednesday and Good Friday in addition to the abstaining from meat on Fridays. As Catholics we are expected to fast on Ash Wednesday (traditionally until 3pm) and consume just one meal a day with two small meals. So why do we fast? Catholic Traditions and the teaching of the Church alongside the sacred scripture explains that we are sinners and that in order to prepare ourselves for the passion and resurrection of Christ, we must first and foremost purify ourselves our sins. Fasting and consistent prayer is the right approach to deleting our sins, and by doing so, it brings us closer to God and have a stronger and vibrant relations. As lent has begun, most of us will have given up something for this holy period like food or alcohol however traditionally it Lent and fasting is not primarily just about food. Fasting is about much more than this and this is evident in the Summa Theologea by Aquinas where he explains the four main virtues of a human and that is; fortitude, justice, prudence and temperance and if we want to grow and develop our virtues, we must indeed fast.
During the gospel readings for the 1st Sunday of Lent, we read that Jesus himself went into the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days and 40 night and as he did so, he was tempted by the devil three times. In each temptation, Satan had failed as Jesus trusted in his Father and objected to the three temptation and this is very key in the life of Jesus as he shows us the way. “At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights and afterwards was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread. He said in reply, “It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” – Matthew 4:1-11. It is so easy to fall into the temptations of the devil but we must have 100% trust and faith in God, for all good things come with God. Even today, our faith is tested our daily lives where the Devil has intervened and gives you temptations that may or may not realise. We have choices in Life, we make choices on a day to day basis. Do we choose God? Or do we just choose the easy option. We need to put God at the centre of our lives and say yes to Christ. Mary, our mother, was only 16 when she said yes to God and it is because of her devotion to God and her faith and her big yes that we have Christ and we are able to celebrate the paschal feast.Aquinas explains the three mains reasons given in order of importance as to why we fast; to bridle the lust; in 2 Corinthians 6:5-6 it said by the Apostle “In fasting, in chastity” and we can minimize the lust by fasting and the abstinence of meat. Secondly, fasting helps to open our hearts, say yes to God in order to build a stronger relationship with God. In the book of Daniel, chapter 10, after having fasted for 3 weeks, he sought revelation from God. Finally, you shall seek penance for you sins. We are sinners, for this is why God sacrificed His only Son to purify and cleanse us of our sins. "Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one's flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, kindles the true light of chastity” – St Augustine of Hippo. Through the passion of Christ and His resurrection, our sins are pardoned and our souls are lifted up into the life of grace. It is through Christs’ resurrection that we are taught the truth and have the sources if the teachings and catechism of the Church. Every year on the vigil of the Easter tridium, we renew our baptismal promises through the resurrection of the body of Christ. Fasting, penance and abstinence helps us to achieve the glory of God and receive new life. “ The Paschal mystery has two aspects: by his death, Christ liberates us from sin; by his Resurrection, he opens for us the way to a new life. This new life is above all justification that reinstates us in God's grace, "so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life’ – Catechism 654.
So how can we fast and grow our relationship with God into something strong and powerful? As the Church teaches, we fast on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and in addition to this we abstain from meat on these days to reflect on the mysteries Christ.
Many of us will have given up something for Lent and that is good, but do want to seek more of a relationship with God? Do you want grow a stronger connection, with a deep and fruitful understanding? Do you have the urge to deepen that roots on Gods’ love? Why not take part in a spiritual fast? There are three 90 day spiritual fasts tailored for Catholic men and Catholic women Catholics to take part in and these are;
Exodus 90 (for men)
Fiat 90 (for women)
These 90 day spiritual fasts start on the 4th of January and end on Easter Sunday. It is a strict fast where you must abstain from watching TV, no snacks, cold showers and many more. These fasts help to minimize the luxuries and instead use the time effectively and prayer more during. Fasting and prayer go hand in hand. The time spent watching Netflix could be spent praying the litany of humility or praying the rosary or just spending time with our Lord during adoration. The 90 day Catholic spiritual fasting exercise also helps have daily prayer routine and this is great if you can do this as a group. Your body and soul are completely committed and focused on God and reflection on the passion of Christ. During the fast, I would recommend spiritual reading. There are a range of books for Catholics to read and meditate upon, it is useful to take that to read a couple of pages each day, it will nurture and help you with the fasting and for the period of lent. Fr Mike Schmitz has recently started an excellent Bible in a year podcasts, the old testament can be difficult to understand, Fr mike explains it thoroughly in his podcasts both which can be found on Apple podcasts and Spotify. It is currently still 4th in the Apple chart, it is great just to open your bible and just listen Fr Mike as he goes through its chapter gradually.
I will just end with a quote by Pope Benedict XVI;
“Lent stimulates us to let the Word of God penetrate our life”
F. Emmanuel Joseph ~ University of Hull