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 from food or drink is not always a spiritual thing; sometimes it’s just a physical plan to “get into shape” and without it being dedicated to the glory of God.
Yet fasting of food or drink or some other thing (or course) can be quite spiritual, with links to one’s holiness in God in the Lord Jesus Christ, and Lent is the best time to practice it. The basic thing is that it’s done in some form of self-denial and for the openness of more life in God through Christ and The Holy Spirit. The Christian life is filled with this challenge of self-denial—which then asks us to take up our cross, and follow Jesus. : Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny him(her)self, take up his(her)cross, and follow Me.” Matthew 16:24
This is right in the opposite direction of the self-centered world. It is about submitting to God of one’s mind, body, soul, heart, will and strength. The world just despises that word of submission and of the authority of God! Yet Jesus lived that life of servanthood and submission to the Father’s plan; and we are to follow Him. So even fasting needs to fit into that higher plan for it to be a good Lenten observance.
Jesus’ Golden Rule teaching ties the fasting, prayer and almsgiving call to be in alignment to the three-fold love of God, neighbor and self.
Fasting is surely about self-denial. It’s not simply about intermittent meals or missing food or having a routine of Pilates or treadmilling with our protein smoothee! It’s also about how you are docile, then, to just where and how Jesus is to lead you in Lent. He’s the Lord, not you. What does Jesus want for you? And what of His Spirit in you—what are you open to trust God for? God wants to be in the middle of your plans, so that we’re not merely in some self-improvement plan. God has a job going on in saving you, needing your Amen! It’s Lent. It’s March. Let’s do this.
I have a friend who blogged on this topic a few 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. Yet it is a good way and quite personal in its choice. It’s hoping for self-mastery, but not at its end, for pleasing God is its end. Fasting is mentioned a lot in the Bible, and we heard an example from Joel’s book on Ash Wednesday.
Fasting is not feasting. When I was a new priest, my parishioners of St. Mary’s Rockville liked to go down Rt. 355 to Bethesda to a popular Fish Restaurant on Fridays and really feast it up on expensive fish meals, paired with some alcohol drinks. They said they were doing their Lenten Friday part. I thought to myself—well, they got the abstaining from meat part down, but fasting was not paired on. It was all a little amusing to me, for I think the fasting part was lost. I was privately hoping they had other better Lenten fasting observances going on. But they loved their succulent fish in Lent!
Fasting in our spiritual plan may help us experience more power in ministry. Jesus remarked that some limitations in their ministry (involving healing) could be changed if they fasted with their prayers.. Jesus Himself fasted, and He calls His followers to do so. He called the early Church to do so, saying: When the BrideGroom is with them, they won’t, but when He is taken away then they will fast. Joel says: “Blow the trumpet! Gather people of the assembly. Proclaim a fast!” So the Church has done so at Ash Wednesday to start up Lent, and then Good Friday will be a fasting/abstinence day; these are the bookend practices of Lent. Yet for this long in-between time, we can discern how we might find the self-denial practices in the season, and with fasting, whether with food, drink or another thing, to walk in some disciplined manner down the Lenten Road? I hope to hear testimonies of people who did such a Lent. As this year’s Lenten season is now on, 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 ahead more fully. Fr. Barry