Fasting lets us give more attention
to spiritual aspects of our lives
Rev. William Mason, OMI
The purpose of fasting is to bring us closer to God.
Many different and complementary meanings are associated with fasting:
Fasting is a symbol of sorrow and atonement and is linked with sack cloth and ashes (1 Sam. 31:13) by which we seek God's forgiveness.
It is a sign of repentance (1 Sam. 7:6) by which we seek God's grace to change.
Fasting accompanies prayer in time of great need (2 Sam. 12:16) when we seek God's help and grace.
Fasting is part of discernment before a big decision (AA 13:2 and 14:23) in which we seek to know God's will.
Through fasting we eliminate the impurities in our bodies and our souls. By not focusing on our immediate and superficial hungers, we become more attentive to our deeper hungers. We discipline ourselves by focusing our energy and efforts on our deeper values and not being distracted by immediate concerns.
In the past we focused almost entirely on fasting from food and drink. Today our lifestyles have developed much. We can give our attention to fasting from other aspects of our lifestyle: TV, computer, texting, video games, smoking, gambling, etc. These parts of our lives are not bad in themselves, but when we lessen our attention on them, we can give more attention to the more spiritual aspects of our lives: prayer, service and love.
Fasting is not just individual but also communitarian. Fasting can deepen our communal bonds when it is done in unison. In the Old Testament, religious and political leaders declared a day of fasting for the whole community: Judges 20:26; I Sam. 14:24; I Kings 21:9.
In our Catholic tradition some of our fasting is done in unison with the rest of our members. During Lent all Catholics are asked to make Ash Wednesday and Good Friday days of fast and abstinence. That means all Catholics 14 and over do not eat meat and those 21-59 have one regular meal and two small meals that day; and there is no snacking between meals.
Also all Catholics are asked to abstain from meat on all the Fridays of Lent. Abstaining from meat has come to mean that we can eat fish. If it is to be a true day of abstinence, then we should refrain from an entrée whether it is fish or meat.
Besides Lent, all Catholics are asked to fast and abstain for an hour before participating in the celebration of the Eucharist.
Fasting is a spiritual discipline that brings us closer to God. It is our personal responsibility to fast this Lent and thus come closer to God.
(Father William Mason, OMI, is pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Oakland.)
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