I've been thinking a lot lately about fasting.
What it is, what it is not, how important it is, and how often I forget (or just plain don't want) to do it.
I think most of us know, at least in theory, how important it is to fast. Scripture, Christ's own words, the Church Fathers, the saints, the documents of the Church speak about it often. But how often do we actually do it? How often do I take my prayer to the next level, integrating both my soul AND body? Sometimes I wonder if Christ's stern words to the pharisees scare us from ever even attempting it or talking about it. But his warning was about pure intentions and pride, calling attention to ourselves when we are doing it. They were not meant to tell us never to do it or never to encourage others in the practice but simply to do it with a humbled and contrite heart. I know the times I do fast with my prayers that it feels different. It feels clarified, stronger. It unites me to the sufferings of others in a way that just thinking pious thoughts or even the most heartfelt spoken prayers do not. It adds something to my pleadings that seems to increase their effect and transform my heart just a bit more than when my prayers are solely words. It was, after all, our Lord Himself who showed us that certain things actually required fasting to be effective:
"And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, "Why could we not cast it out?" And he said to them, "This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting."
(and Matthew 17:21)
(and Matthew 17:21)
Do I sometimes pray for things merely in words and half-hearted wishes and when nothing changes, give it up prematurely as "not God's will?" Or is it important enough to me to give up a little luxury along with my words? Is my petition, my request, what I say I want so much, worth that sacrifice or am I merely blowing smoke? When my heart prays something so very hard, am I willing to back that up with a fast? Does it mean enough to me?
Sure, God doesn't need our fasting or sacrifices. He doesn't need anything at all from us, really. But He asks for it and tells us repeatedly in His Word and through the Tradition of the ages that that is how He longs to work in our lives.
So that thing you've been longing for, that person breaking your heart, that horror you've been praying about, that plea for your family or friend or stranger, your own holiness...is it worth it?
I hope I can say yes.
I'm challenging myself, at least, to say yes.
If you're interested, I found a great little synopsis of fasting in the Scriptures found here.
"The scripture is full of places that prove fasting to be not the invention of man but the institution of God, and to have many more profits than one. And that the fasting of one man may do good unto another, our Saviour showeth himself where he saith that some kind of devils cannot be cast out of one man by another “without prayer and fasting.” And therefore I marvel that they take this way against fasting and other bodily penance."
St. Thomas More
"Fasting makes sense if it really affects our security, and also if a benefit to others comes from it, if it helps us to grow in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, who bends down to his brother in need and takes care of him. Fasting involves choosing a sober life, which does not waste, which does not “discard”. Fasting helps us to train the heart to essentiality and sharing. It is a sign of awareness and responsibility in the face of injustices, abuses, especially towards the poor and the little ones, and is a sign of our trust in God and His providence."
"If you are able to fast, you will do well to observe some days beyond what are ordered by the Church, for besides the ordinary effect of fasting in raising the mind, subduing the flesh, confirming goodness, and obtaining a heavenly reward, it is also a great matter to be able to control greediness, and to keep the sensual appetites and the whole body subject to the law of the Spirit; and although we may be able to do but little, the enemy nevertheless stands more in awe of those whom he knows can fast. The early Christians selected Wednesday, Friday and Saturday as days of abstinence. Do you follow therein according as your own devotion and your director’s discretion may appoint." St. Francis de Sales - Intro to Devout Life
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