ViewpointThe practice of fasting has many dimensions

photo 1448794363755 de84d6a770bc Photo by Mike Kenneally via Unsplash

Fasting is one of the practices associated traditionally with the season of Lent. Lenten fasting is rich in meaning and significance. I suggest that there are seven values to be derived from fasting.

+ The first value of fasting is learning reverence for food.  We live in a consumer society in which food is available in abundance and is habitually wasted.  Food is viewed as purely functional; rarely do we think of food as a precious gift from God.

Fasting gives us the opportunity to interrupt our normal consumerist attitudes regarding food, and allows us to grow in reverence for it.

+ The second value of fasting is that it provides a means of assisting the hungry.  The scriptures are full of admonitions about sharing food with the needy. Indeed, the extent to which we share our food is one of the criteria by which God will ultimately judge us.

There are numerous ways in which we can fast for charitable purposes during Lent. We can shop more economically so that we may contribute more to charity. We can eat more sparingly and put the money we save aside to assist others.  

+ The third value of fasting (close to the second) is that it allows us to enter into solidarity with the poor. This means recognizing that that as long as there are poor people in the world, it is unseemly that we should eat luxuriously.

We are called to live more simply, more sparingly, and to avoid waste and self-indulgence in a spirit of union with those who have little. As long as  there is hunger in the world, a permanent element of fasting should be part of our lives

+ The fourth value of fasting is helping us grow in humility. Humility means a realistic, clear-sighted, and sober sense of ourselves and our places in the world.

To be humble is to have an awareness of our own limitations. We realize that our lives are fragile.  We become more aware of our mortality and the fact that we must die.

Hunger makes us more aware of our limitations, our mortality, and our dependence on the earth. Hunger cuts us down to size and deflates our egos.

+ The fifth value associated with fasting is that it teaches discipline.  Discipline means self-restraint and appropriate self-restrictio – nall marks of the mature person.  Their opposites are self-indulgence, the inability to control ourselves, and the tendency to live without restraint.

Fasting involves external discipline teaching us internal discipline.  The practice of fasting can have the inner effect of making us more genuine and authentic disciples of Christ.

+ The sixth value of fasting – especially on Good Friday, when Catholics are required to fast – is to express solidarity with Jesus on the day of his death.  On the day of Christ's trial, suffering, and death, Christians are called to live in a sober way, avoiding entertainment and distracting activities.  As Christ suffers on the Cross on Good Friday, Christians are invited to observe that day with a firm gaze on Christ's saving actions.

+ Finally, we fast in preparation for the return of Christ in glory. We are reminded that we can never be satisfied by ordinary food, which satisfies only momentarily but then perishes.  We do not live by bread alone.  What we await is the food of heaven, the food of God's heavenly banquet which will not perish but give eternal life.  Until then, we will always be spiritually hungry.

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