Good news about fasting

Good news about fasting

Lent has begun, and if you’re reading this on Ash Wednesday, you’re fasting, and you’re probably hungry right now.

Roman Catholics are obliged to fast — one normal meal and two small snacks — on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. But Maronite Catholics observe a much stricter Lent:

In regards to the Lenten penitential practices of the Maronites residing in Australia, and in accordance with the guidelines released by His Beatitude and Eminence Mar Bechara Boutros Cardinal Rai, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, we recommend the following practices to the faithful of the Maronite Eparchy of Australia:

Fasting from midnight to midday on all weekdays: no food or drink is to be consumed, with the exception of water;

I haven’t looked it up, but it’s a fair bet that the other Catholic rites are also more disciplined than us Latins.

Of course, there’s nothing stopping Roman Catholics from observing voluntary fasts in Lent. I know plenty of people who have decided to fast on every Friday in Lent, and some who will fast on Wednesdays too. (Wednesday being the day that Judas conspired against our Lord.)

The idea of fasting is noble and even inspiring, but the experience of fasting is hard. So let me give you some encouragement.

Here’s Fr Mike Schmitz, who in eight minutes gives four spiritual reasons for fasting:

I especially like his point about us becoming co-redeemers with Christ. But when your stomach is really growling, and you’re struggling to reach spiritual heights, how about a good dose of material self-interest? Here’s a longer video — 1 hour — but a very interesting one, on the health benefits of fasting:

So research shows fasting improves our resistance to stress, reduces blood pressure, reduces blood sugar, improves insulin sensitivity, reduces the incidence of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, and improves cognitive ability. Maybe this detracts a bit from what Fr Mike says about sacrifice. But on the other hand, it says something about God’s design, I think, that good spiritual practices do so much good for the body too.

Incidentally, this latter video launched a craze in Britain for intermittent fasting, especially in the form of the 5:2 diet. I take fad diets with a grain of salt. But don’t take nutritional advice from a priest; this is just a post of encouragement from a presently quite hungry blogger!

  • Fr Joel

    Fr Mike makes good points, but I’d argue that fasting does get God’s “attention”. In that it strengthens and intensifies petitionary prayer. Of course, in so far as it does unite us to the means and the Person who won that grace for us, but nevertheless. Jonah and the people of Nineveh would agree. As would King Hezekiah when faced with the Assyrians.

    • Fair point. But what about the rejoinder that prayer doesn’t change God (who is immutable)? Prayer changes us, such that we are more willing channels of God’s grace, or grow in love and more willingly surrender to God’s will.

      I’ll have to think on this some more.

      • Fr Joel

        Indeed. I often say that God will not often remove our struggles but strengthen us with grace to withstand and overcome them. It’s just that this idea is hard to reconcile with much of God’s revelation in the scriptures.
        God doesn’t change, but certainly his graces are bestowed in certain times and places, on certain people with the right disposition.
        Bit like someone with a bottomless bank account. He may not give you $100 when you pass him on the street. But if you stopped and asked him he might, and it wouldn’t cost him a thing.

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