Saturday, February 17, 2024

Why Do We Fast?


Why do Catholics fast? A religious reason and a remedy for sin

Fasting is a practice that many Catholics observe during Lent, the season of preparation for Easter. But what is the meaning and purpose of fasting? How does it relate to our faith and our relationship with God? In this blog post, we will explore the religious reason why we fast and how it can help us overcome the effects of sin in our lives.

Fasting is the voluntary deprivation of food or other goods for a certain period of time, usually for a spiritual motive. Fasting is not a form of dieting or self-punishment, but a way of expressing our love and devotion to God, who is the source of all good things. Fasting is also a way of imitating Christ, who fasted for forty days in the desert before beginning his public ministry (Matthew 4:1-11).

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians of the Catholic Church, fasting has three main purposes:

1. To restrain the lusts of the flesh, which can lead us to sin and distract us from God. Fasting helps us to control our appetites and to detach ourselves from worldly pleasures that can enslave us. Fasting also strengthens our virtue of chastity, which enables us to love God and others with purity and respect.

2. To raise the mind to the contemplation of heavenly things, which can fill us with joy and peace. Fasting clears our vision and sharpens our focus on God, who is the ultimate goal of our existence. Fasting also fosters our prayer life, which is the dialogue of love between God and us.

3. To make satisfaction for sins, which can damage our relationship with God and others. Fasting is a form of penance, which means expressing sorrow for our sins and repairing the harm they have caused. Fasting also shows our willingness to cooperate with God's grace, which heals us from the wounds of sin.

The Bible gives us many examples of fasting as a religious practice that pleases God and brings about his blessings. For instance, Moses fasted for forty days on Mount Sinai before receiving the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28). Esther fasted for three days before approaching King Ahasuerus to save her people from genocide (Esther 4:16). Daniel fasted for three weeks before receiving a revelation from God (Daniel 10:2-3). Jonah fasted for three days in the belly of the whale before being sent to Nineveh to preach repentance (Jonah 1:17-2:10). Jesus fasted for forty days in the desert before being tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11).  

St. Francis de Sales tells us in his Ash Wednesday sermon that we fast in order to discipline the mouth. This is because sin began in the mouth, so to speak. Adam and Eve spoke to the serpent and plotted their disobedience of God with their mouths. It was via the mouth that Adam and Eve consumed the forbidden fruit, so the mouth was, in effect, the entry way of the Original Sin.  This is why fasting is often needed to drive stronger demonic forces away. The fasting is a form of the human being taking control back from the enemy. It weakens the enemy. Fasting to prepare for feasts allows us to desire the feast more just like when we crave a favorite food after depriving ourselves of it.  

The Church teaches that fasting is a form of asceticism, which means practicing self-discipline for spiritual growth. The Church also prescribes every Friday and certain days and seasons of fasting and abstinence, such as Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and Lent, to help us prepare for the great feasts of Easter and Christmas. The Church also encourages us to practice voluntary fasting and abstinence at other times, according to our ability and circumstances. We saw this a few times during the pandemic and outbreak of war when Pope Francis called on Catholics to fast and pray. 

Fasting is not an end in itself, but a means to an end: to love God more and to serve him better. Fasting is not a burden, but a privilege: to share in the sufferings of Christ and to rejoice in his resurrection. Fasting is not a punishment, but a remedy: to cleanse our souls from sin and to renew our hearts with grace.  Also note that those with medical conditions or who are of mature age are not obligated to fast. 

As we enter into this season of Lent, let us embrace fasting as a religious reason and a remedy for sin. Let us fast with faith, hope, and love. Let us fast with gratitude, humility, and joy. Let us fast with Jesus, who is our model, our strength, and our reward.

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