Pastor’s Blog (and Bulletin Pastor’s Message)
Definition of Fasting: Going really fast and rushed in all you do. Wrong! Definition of Fasting: An eating plan or discipline for other areas in so to practice moderation, self-control, continence and/or abstinence. Better!
Fasting is a part of Lent. I know someone who is foregoing meat in their diet until Easter (and they are a meat lover, not vegetarian). That is a fasting plan. I bet there is some teen or young adult giving up considerable time on Facebook or TikTok or video gaming—as a Lenten practice. That is a type of fasting, too.
Fasting is not something that is the main feature of my own Lent, because I practice much intermittent fasting already. On Ash Wednesday, the direction to having one main meal only and two small meals is less than I do on any regular day—so it was not helpful to my Lenten start to do so. Intermittent fasting is the underlying premise behind many modern diets. It’s popular today. Maybe it is a fad. Nutritionists love to debate the worth of it. Yet some folks find it more spiritual than a physical thing. It is in the category of virtue living over vice living. It’s a habit of observing what one eats or is consuming.
Intermittent fasting can sometimes be easy on a person today, as our modern human bodies have evolved to be able to go without food for many hours, or even several days or longer. But for some others—it is not so at all. They need that regular reliance of food and drink! One needs to know their own body. But of intermittent fasting, there are several ways it is done. A person might choose to only eat during an eight-hour period each day and fast the other 16 hours. Someone else might choose to eat only one meal a day on two specific days each week. Some only have small meals through a day, counting carbs or calories—confining themselves to cabbage or salads (no dressing) or types of smoothies. It’s all to control intake and types of food/drink intake. In theory, after hours without food, the body exhausts its sugar stores and starts burning fat. I’ve not been able to get to the nirvana of all of that (secular use of the word)—as my weight doesn’t drop much despite all sorts of control methods. Perhaps it is in my genes to store fat, or in my mind, with the famines in the Irish past of my family tree. But I still try to have it work.
The bottom line, though, is that this type of intermittent diet plan I use is a form of self-denial. I consider it part of my spiritual life. It’s been so for centuries of religious people to share that approach. The Christian life is filled with the challenge of self-denial—some use their exercise program to have some self-mastery over the flesh.
But its not just about missing food or doing minutes of Pilates or treadmilling! It is about submitting to God one’s mind, body, soul, heart, will and strength. Jesus spoke about this in His Golden Rule teachings of love of God, neighbor and self. It’s surely about self-denial. Take Matthew 16:24 which states: Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny him(her)self, take up his(her)cross, and follow Me.” So, the question is, just where and how is Jesus to lead you in Lent. He’s the Lord, not you. What does Jesus want for you? And what of His Spirit in you—He wants the be in the middle of your plans, so to be directed to the Father, and not in just some self-improvement plan. God has a job in saving you, needing your Amen!
I have a friend who blogged on this topic days ago. He says that self-denial is the act of letting go. It is an act of personal abstinence. It is a willingness to forgo one’s personal pleasures and/or desires for a greater good, especially when done as an offering to God. Fasting is just one of many ways of self-denial. He says how the Bible is clear on the importance of self-denial and fasting. Jesus made it clear in the Sermon on the Mount that prayer, alms giving, and fasting are an essential part of Christian life. Most Christians heard that gospel of Ash Wednesday. They might have resonated more on the first two in their life, but less on the fasting part. For some Christians it is a completely foreign idea—this fasting thing—or else they get it all wrong. When I was a new priest, my parish of St. Mary’s would go down Rt. 355 to a popular Fish Restaurant on Fridays and really feast it up on expense fish meals, with some alcohol drinks. They said they were doing their Lenten Friday part. I said it would not pass my test of any fast or abstinence. . Fasting was important to Moses, Daniel, King David, and John the Baptist just to name a few persons in the Bible. Jesus observed that his disciples had some limitations in ministry, and He said that they could do better by prayer and fasting practices in their ministry. Jesus fasted, and He calls His followers to do so. Fasting is mentioned dozens and dozens of times in the Word of God. We heard it in the first reading of Lent from Joel: “Blow the trumpet! Gather people of the assembly. Proclaim a fast!” While Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are bookend practices of Lent for fasting, in-between we can discern how we might find the self-denial practices in the season, whether with food, drink or another thing, to walk in some disciplined manner down the Lenten Road.
As this year’s Lenten season begins, God calls us to return to Him with our whole heart. We are encouraged to turn to prayer, fasting and alms giving. We do this in preparation to celebrate the joy of Easter more fully.