Fasting in Lent
Updated: Feb 24
Fasting is connected to repentance and fasting is connected to making a more powerful prayer. Jonah did not want to go to preach fasting and repentance to Nineveh, because he was sure of the power of fasting.
“Tear your hearts, not your garments.” (Jl. 2:13) God wants more than an external practice of penitence during Lent.
The Day of Atonement was the day for fasting according to the Law of Moses. As Catholics, we have two days of fasting each year: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. However, in the Old Testament, fasting was often practiced at moments of national disaster or during some great crisis. It could be a sign of seeking personal conversion – turning away from sin and to the Gospel.
Sanctify a fast. We are called to make the fast holy. The word “holy” in Hebrew is “kadosh.” It appears 170 times in the Old Testament, often translated as “consecrate.” The fasting that we are undergoing during Lent has the purpose of dedicating ourselves to the Lord. Many people deny the value of Lent, explicitly or implicitly. The big thing is that they do not want to be separated from the crowd. Our fasting marks us as different.
We are called to fast during Lent because we are suffering from attachments. So, the best way to fast is to face head-on what our attachments are. Now, we are all too attached to our own life and comfort. This is why the Church prescribes fasting from food on this day. Food is a good thing. We need it for nourishment, and it tastes good. But our dependence on food goes beyond the way it is really meant for us. So, it is good for us, from time to time, to move away from it. If we are healthy, we will not die if we skip a meal once in a while. But it may do a lot to sharpen our senses and help us to realize how we are misusing food.
Maybe we look to food for comfort. Here, it is no longer fulfilling its purpose of nourishment. In fact, we may even be abusing our bodies by filling them too much with food, or with the wrong kind of food. Fasting gives us the opportunity to put food back in its proper place – something for nourishment, but not to become an idol in our lives.
Outside can help the inside
When Jesus confronts the Pharisees about washing the outside of the cup, but leaving the inside impure, he is speaking ofa possibility. We all run the risk of being hypocrites. But let’s face it, it is more likely that a cup that is clean on the outside is also going to be clean on the inside. That is why Lent may include some exterior practices. They help to get us in the proper mindset to change on the inside, which is what we really need.
Fasting is Wisdom, Training, and Surrender.
Fasting requires wisdom. We have to know the difference between fasting to lose weight and fasting to get ourselves prepared spiritually for a great feast at the end of Lent. We want to make sure that God is at the center of our lives.
Fasting is training. We are getting our bodies into shape. So much of our prayer can be hindered by our bodily postures. If we lie down to examine our conscience, we will often fall asleep. As men and women, we are bodies and souls, so what our body is doing does affect our soul.
Fasting is surrender. This surrender is an acknowledgment that God’s power is greater than our power. It is trust in him. It is the realization that he holds power over our lives. As Americans, we can run the risk of wanting to be independent in every relationship that we have. But it is important to learn dependence on God.
When we receive ashes during Mass on Ash Wednesday, we recognize our own powerlessness in front of the challenges of the world. We feel closer to dust and ashes than to the pinnacle of creation. It offers us an opportunity to recognize our powerlessness in front of the world's challenges and be grateful for our closeness to God who has made us.
Whatever you do for Lent, it is good to have something that helps you get detached from the things that are holding you back in your spiritual journey. Look at yourself realistically and ask yourself, “what is holding me back?” Then think of something you can do positively that helps you move in the opposite direction. It may be fasting physically, but there are many other forms of fasting that may be even more beneficial for you this Lent. What will you do?
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