Fasting gets little attention in Protestant Christianity but is a very important practice in Scripture and in the Catholic Church. Never did I once hear a sermon about it when I was a Protestant for 60 years. When I lived in Virginia, however, my friend, Debbie Streeker, and I fasted together on the same day to pray for the stop of abortion. We both had two small children so it wasn’t easy, and we certainly didn’t see much in the way of our prayers working then. Now, 40 years later with another 40 Days for Life concluding, perhaps many of our prayers have been answered for thousands of children’s lives have been saved. And since becoming Catholic in 2009, I have again been fasting weekly for six years. So it is time for a report to you, my readers, because prayer, (see TFC February 2015) fasting, and almsgiving are part of what we should be doing this Lent and beyond as our interior penance. (CCC 1434)
WHO Can Fast?
Anyone who eats food can benefit from a fast. Now, of course, if you are pregnant or nursing, it is most definitely not advisable, but throughout Sacred Scripture, we see fasting in both the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Moses fasted for 40 days and nights before receiving the Ten Commandments (Exodus 24:18). Queen Esther fasted for three days prior to going to King Ahasuerus the Great to entreat him to help save her people, the Jews (Esther 4: 15-16). Saul (Paul) and Barnabas were worshiping the Lord and fasting with other prophets and teachers in Antioch when the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13: 1-2 RSV) So we have many Biblical examples of holy souls and saints who chose fasting as a means to not only hear God’s voice, but to more clearly know His will.
WHAT is Fasting?
Fasting, according to The Catechism of the Catholic Church is “Refraining from food and drink as an expression of interior penance, in imitation of the fast of Jesus for forty days in the desert. It is sometimes prescribed by a precept of the Church, especially during the liturgical season of Lent.” Now with that definition in tow, no one in their right mind could accomplish it—40 days without food or drink? Well according to scripture, Matthew 4: 1-2, it says, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry.” It seems like if he didn’t drink anything, it would have said, “He was hungry and thirsty.” And if a man (or woman) has enough water, he can fast for 40-50 days without suffering permanent injury. So I don’t know if Christ went without water, but He certainly went without food. When I was doing network marketing several years ago, I did talk with a Southern gentleman who was attempting to fast without food and water for 40 days. I was never able to reach him again!
So it is probably safe to say that fasting generally is going without food. Fasting can also be denying ourselves other pleasures. One man in my church, Saint Cecilia Catholic Church on Bainbridge Island WA, fasts three times weekly from wine. Another lady fasts from gossip. And within the Catholic Relief Services CRS Rice Bowl 2015 Lenten Calendar, (crsricebowl.org ), they also listed fasting from the following: desserts, beverages (except water), meat, snacks, and eating out. For the sake of this blog post, however, I am going to focus on fasting from “chewing food.” That I can handle.
WHEN Do You Fast?
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops offers us this information: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence [of meat]. For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal. Two smaller meals may also be taken, but not equal to a full meal. The norms concern abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards. If possible, the fast on Good Friday is continued until the Easter Vigil (on Holy Saturday night) as the “paschal fast” to honor the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus, and to prepare ourselves to share more fully and celebrate more readily his Resurrection. Now these are our prescribed precepts as Catholics. I would encourage you, nevertheless, to consider fasting once a week in addition to the above. For myself, I picked Tuesday to fast, because the “T” is in the shape of the cross. I guess I could have picked Thursday too or better yet Friday, in honor of our Lord’s death. But Tuesday it has been for six years.
WHERE Do You Fast?
Well Jesus went into the wilderness to fast and Moses fasted on a mountaintop, but since I am just a normal, ordinary mom and wife, I would have trouble heading off to those places; so I just fast every Tuesday in my home and on the go. Of course, you want to keep your fasting to yourself because Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:16-18 “…do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men…But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” In other words, don’t let other people know you are fasting, and look as good as you normally do.
WHY Do You Fast?
Since I can only speak for myself, these are my reasons:
- Fasting gives my prayers an “extra whammy.” In the Bible, the Disciples of Jesus tried to cast out a mute spirit who was convulsing a boy. They were unable. When Jesus performed the miracle, the disciples asked him why they couldn’t. He said in Mark 9: 28-29 “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.” So if you want to give your prayers that extra pull, add fasting.
- Fasting unites me with those who know hunger. We, in America, all have so much in the way of food. So with each hunger pang, I am able to lift it up to Jesus and ask him to be with those who experience hunger as an awful way of life, especially little children. I ask that my prayers may save their lives.
- Fasting simplifies my life to focus more fully on my prayers. No meal preparation for me equals more time to pray and offer up my requests.
- I know I am a sinner, like Pope Francis has said of himself. I need to take up my cross and practice self-denial. Fasting has helped me truly see what I really need versus what I really want. It is a small way each week to “take up my cross” but the results are huge.
- To lose weight?? Well not really. You will lose a pound or two each day you fast, but it generally comes back on. Maybe it has helped stabilize my weight where it is, and it is good health practice because it gives your intestinal system a needed “Sabbath” rest.
Again, I can only speak for myself, but I start my day with a protein shake mixed with milk, water, or juice. The rest of the day I generally just drink coffee or tea but mainly water. When dinner time comes, I will prepare a meal for my family and sit down at the table with them with a glass of wine. Sometimes I will end my evening with a cup of hot chocolate. Nothing really complicated; but as previously stated, with each hunger pang, you are given an opportunity to pray and lift up your sufferings to Jesus for the salvation of souls. I truly believe that my simple prayers have been blessed, for my husband and our fifth child became Catholic a year after I did, and my second son a year later. My goal is for the conversion of all my children to Catholicism and an end to abortion. If our Lord Jesus could fast for 40 days, why can’t we do it for just 4 days a month?