Why Fasting?

Fasting, Almsgiving and Prayer during Lent, and today a few thoughts about fasting. Why fast?

First of all, let’s put to rest that ridiculous, girly idea that Lent is all about “taking something up” not “giving something up”. I’ve always considered that to be a soft option. By all means take something up, but you should give something up as well.

Why give something up? Not because it is bad in itself. We’re not Manicheans. We don’t believe that physical pleasures and physical things are bad in themselves. Instead we give something up not because it is bad, but because we are seeking a greater good. We’re seeking self mastery and self discipline and self control.

All of that is good, and also the idea that by giving something up we are focusing more on Christ the King and the Kingdom that is not of this world.

Here’s another idea–something more radical: by giving something up we are countering the pleasure obsessed culture in which we live. We are standing the whole thing on its head. We live in a society that is not embarrassed to call itself “consumerist”. We live in a culture which considers “more” to always be better and “economic growth” to be a good that cannot be questioned. We live in a society in which “self indulgence” is called “self esteem”, where unlimited acquisition is considered a sign of success and where uninhibited pleasure is called “self expression.”

So fasting cuts right across all of that. Fasting and abstinence calls it all into question–first for ourselves and then for others. Fasting says to the gluttonous, lustful, greedy society in which we live, “Fuhgeddaboudit”

Fasting is therefore a sign of contradiction. It is being counter cultural. It is being subversive.

I’m for it. At the beginning of Lent I feel like I want to be a hermit–to live a shack in the woods and grow a long beard and be silent and be a sign of contradiction. Suddenly I admire St Simeon Stylites who lived on top of a pillar in the desert for thirty nine years.

Why fast? To be a voice of one crying in the wilderness.

That’s why.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03792937108732259684 priest’s wife

    This is the first lent that I have noticed the phrase "tithe of the year"- we fast during Lent as a tithe to God to remind us that the entire year is His.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08703801223967321729 Jamie

    I love this post, Father! I am not sure I'd refer to "taking something up" as a girly notion, but that description did make me laugh out loud.Fasting is good for the soul. It reminds us that our longings are not truly fulfilled by chocolate, the TV, Facebook, wine, or whatever other pleasures are being left behind. We know that intellectually as Catholics that these things are only substitutes for the joy that only comes through a relationship with Him and Lent is time to physically remind ourselves of that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07947947676315341165 GMRUNNER

    fasting can be a means of purifying distractions from the soul and of being a speed bump to make one more conscious of God and the things of God.If it enables one to love God more, then there is surely merit in depriving oneself.However, I doubt God cares one way or the other whether we deprive ourselves of sugar and cream in our coffee, and I really doubt it causes Him to love us more if we exclude it.During St Peter's vision about clean foods and unclean foods, our Lord was telling Peter that it wasn't about the pork.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00759018218881749440 lajmh

    To me fasting is not just giving up but to resolve not to start in the first place. For instance, I do not drink alcohol. Fasting, in this case, would be to re-affirm that I will not START to drink alcohol. I do not smoke, so fasting would be the resolve not to START smoking.If that makes any sense to you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16530773598156201785 slave2mary

    True! It is a "girly" notion! I just never heard it described as such. Thank you!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14107703953043579119 Will

    With respect, lajmh, it doesn't make sense to me. Am I fasting if I continue to resolve not to push old ladies down staircases?To me, to fast means to give up something licit and pleasurable that one actually does. As a lazy man, I can't fast from running marathons, because I don't run them anyway. For it to mean anything, it must actually be a sacrifice. This is why I give up booze and some other pleasures during Lent. I don't see that "taking something up" is a girly or weak option. Isn't performing a Corporal or Spiritual Work of Mercy a positive good? Some of them can be a very penitential and challenging indeed. And they're closely tied with Prayer and Almsgiving, which are the other corners of the Lenten triangle.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16141414361291882691 Augustine

    When I returned to practicing the faith, I was appalled at mature adults giving up chocolate for Lent. Come on, adults refraining from candy, children's treats? If anything, it demonstrated that the faith of many adults hadn't grown beyond their Sunday school days.So, yes, instead I took up new devotions during Lent that I intended to carry on for the rest of my life. However, taking them up required me to give up my lack of discipline, my indulgences, my wasted time before entertaining, listening to my selfish lecture about the events of the day in my head, etc.So, yes, there are many ways to purify one's heart, the goal of such practices, besides giving up, which doesn't include giving up chocolate for adults.