But Have I Fasted Yet?


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."
Mark 9:29
(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."
Pope Francis

"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



11 comments

  1. good stuff! And a pretty essential reminder for yours truly. I can think of nothing more important we can do for our children than pray and fast.

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  2. Waaaahhhh, but fasting is so hard! (I know this means I need to do it even more)

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    1. I know, right?!? I always have to remind myself that that's sort of the point!

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  3. I too avoid and generally have been a terrible fast-er! Yet I love the way you describe it when you have embraced it, exactly as I would - your prayers seem clarified, stronger. YES! The handful of experiences like this that I have had make me love its power. Thought as a doula you'd also appreciated that during my first childbirth (and going natural) I remember having this random thought: "I wish I'd fasted more." Not during pregnancy (!), but I guess (oh those spontaneous irrational labor thoughts!) I felt my body would have been better prepared had I been a regular fast-er. When I shared this with my super-wise and holy friend, she said she'd heard a pro-life priest talk about how important fasting was in the pro-life movement, as "fasting makes space for the Other." I loved that! I think I fast best when I just reduce it to "simplicity." Simplify my diet of all unnecessary extras, commit to it in advance, and then just let that feeling of simplicity embody my day, rather than over-analyzing every dietary choice. Partly a mind-trick for a weak-willed creature like myself, but brings me to the center. Anyway, rambling now. Thanks for an important topic!

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    1. That is really interesting! I bet there is something to that thought you had during labor! I need to think on that...

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  4. I don't think I've ever fasted since getting married. I was so paranoid of doing it well but I've been pregnant and/or nursing for the last 6 years and our pastor forbade fasting. Sounds odd but we go to the Traditional Latin mass so most moms have lots of littles; one Ash Wednesday we all got a talk on how fasting while a child depends on your body is a violation of the 5th commandment Thou Shall not Kill. Ouch... Every year he gives that sermon and the longer I'm at the whole mom thing, the more I get his point

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    1. Oh well, yes, I would never recommend a pregnant or nursing mom doing say, a bread and water fast! But there are many different ways to fast. Fasting from the computer or coffee or her favorite show or salt or alcohol...those are all ways to fast that would be fruitful. I think far too often I and other women I know play the pregnancy/nursing card when there are plenty of other ways that we can deny ourselves something and grow spiritually and offer that for others. I know that for me it is very tempting to indulge myself in a disordered way when pregnant or nursing using that as the excuse. How powerful it is to fast for our children! I hope your priest offered other ways that pregnant or nursing mothers can grow in this way!

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  5. I agree that fasting is important. One of our priests likes to tell the story of watching a bird with a broken wing--he can't fly. Then he says the two wings of the spiritual life are prayer and fasting---and you can't fly high in the spiritual life without two healthy wings. And I agree that there are many different ways of fasting. Our priest says for most of us just eating a healthy diet would be a form of fasting. ANY little thing can be offered--having water instead of a beverage at meals, using no salt or other condiments, having a little bit less of your favorite dish, having something healthy instead of a sweet for dessert. I believe it's the mind set and the offering that is important--and just doing it! One spiritual teacher even said just to delay eating--she felt she couldn't give up her bag of chips, but she delayed eating it for another 10 minutes and offered that to God as a sincere sacrifice. I absolutely agree that a pregnant/nursing woman, or anyone who is ill or has other health issues should not participate in the traditional form of fasting. But I do believe that everyone can participate in some form of fasting and that it will greatly benefit their own spiritual life and the whole world. Now if only I could heed my own advice more often!(-:

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    1. Love these ideas! There are countless ways, I think. For me, eating lukewarm or cold food (and not complaining) would be an offering. Or no salt. Or just eliminating unnecessary snacking or sweets. Not that I DO this often...I need to take my own advice more, too!

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  6. Thank you for posting this. I hadn't really thought about the importance of fasting with prayer (I am new to the Church) (I always feel like I need to let people know that when I'm fascinated by things that cradle Catholics have grown up hearing about). Thank you for all the references to it as well. So much to learn!

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    1. Well, welcome!! There is a lot to learn but I'm sure there's a whole lot of people who WERE raised Catholic who are in the same boat when it comes to all sorts of things Catholic. I'm so glad you're here and that the post was helpful!

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