Deacon Blog March 14, 2021
My instinct here is to reveal that this subject drives my hunger for a deeper intimacy with my LORD…but that would be corny, right? I’m sure it’s not lost on too many that Jesus never said what we should “fast” from, only that it was an essential component to a life of true spiritual health. Was this on purpose or merely an assumption that everyone knew what he was referring to? Afterall, fasting as an activity of religious purification and strengthening was, even in HIS day, an ancient ritual. Moses wrote of the practice in his Mosaic Law as a prescription for faithful religious practice. It was intended to “clear a path” to understanding divine wisdom. Fasting, for the ancients, was the “garlic” in a perfect sauce of clarity and intimacy with the voice of GOD. Desert communities and ascetics from the beginning of time used fasting as a way to connect with what the Most High GOD willed for them. It cleared the senses, swept away the clutter of everyday life, and set the stage for a movement in concert with the Creator. Sort of a “divine head slap” to snap them out of a focus on the mundane, using hunger to create a vision of heaven within their present reality. I love to read accounts of saints who have written exhaustively of their revelations after denying themselves for long periods of meaningful food. It should be noted that many of these folks lived short lives, so know that I am not advocating for such practices. Fasting has its place in Christian formation, but we should notice the Church’s balancing of this practice. Temperance. What I want to explore here is broadening the scope of this important Christian precept, important enough for Jesus to frame it as an essential tool in following The Way.
So, one of the reasons for fasting is to form our sense of obedience. For a lot of people this word sends shivers down the spine. We do not like being told what to do, but the Church guides us to fast as a means of developing our ability to hear and follow the voice of GOD. We may encounter a person in need and feel the ‘pull’ to help in some way. The conviction we have to exercise compassion is obedience to GOD. Ignoring this conviction because we are in a hurry, maybe afraid, or distracted with something is our deafness to HIS voice. Why would Jesus need to be “led by the Spirit” into the desert to fast for forty days? He certainly did not have a problem being obedient, but… HE was about to be tempted and needed all HIS strength to resist the evil HE would encounter. And so do we. Obedience can come natural for some, but for most of us it is a skill we need to develop and strengthen. If you have ever been in the military you already understand this. When the combat starts, we need to respond without hesitation. When GOD calls us to a certain purpose we need to hear HIM, process, and react and this requires a mindset that fasting helps to create.
The second reason fasting is asked of us is similar to obedience, but slightly different. This reason is discipline. When our lives find peace, discipline becomes easier on one level. Easier in that stress and anxiety are not competing for our attention, not tempting us to make choices that may compromise our faith. Our finances, our relationships, our overall peace of mind all form themselves around the situations we live in. When we struggle, gaining and maintaining a faithful “status quo” is much tougher and possessing a spiritual discipline can be a life saver. It can be the difference between traveling down a ‘hole’ of poor mental health or real happiness, physical ruin or strong vitality. Discipline to make hard choices and not take the easiest path. Jesus didn’t need 40 days of fasting in the desert, spiritually, but physically this skill would serve HIM in HIS Passion. Being able to overcome our inclinations, and not giving in to the temptations of sin, can be the difference between life and death. Life and death because only in our sinfulness do we create a path of separation from the LOVE of GOD. A path only we can choose. Not to mention the difference between being miserable or truly happy.
Possibly, and maybe most importantly, fasting gives us a tiny glimpse into what GOD was willing to do on the Cross just to draw us close to HIM…eternally. It is often a discussion among Christians, especially young ones, as to why Jesus had to suffer to redeem us. Why couldn’t HE have just “waved HIS hand” or “spoke” as HE did in creating the world? The answer to this is found in the incarnation itself…GOD wanted us to know HE was with us, HE would never leave us (even in the toughest times), and HIS Love for us has no limits. Our ‘minor’ suffering during our fasting draws us into this awareness. An awareness we may not have, mindfully, if not for a discipline that leads us to such contemplation. What GOD was willing to endure to atone not just for the behavior of Adam and Eve, but each one of us daily, should humble everyone and bring us to our knees. Fasting is the portal into this understanding.
Finally, fasting should produce fruits that ‘grease’ the return of the Heavenly Kingdom to earth. These fruits should look like the desire to “fast” from being cruel to others, to “fast” from being selfish and focused mainly on ourselves, and to “fast” from any greed that denies others the basics of life. In the end, this type of “fasting” is supposed to make us better people, and thus a better world…for all. We witness a lot of bad behavior in the world, for sure, but how much of it is a reaction to injustice and mistreatment by others. Redeeming the world involves humanity (as many as possible) transforming their values and behavior to reflect The Way, The Truth, and The Life. Fasting is a main ingredient of this vision, but like all “team” efforts, we need to buy into the vision and take ownership. We should try to understand, and accept, that we do make a difference and thus have a responsibility to work for the Kingdom. Jesus’ last words on earth were “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…and know I am with you, always, till the end of time”. (Matt. 28:20)
No matter the translation you use, if we are professing to be Christians, this is a mandate to serve and continue the “cause” of salvation. But, not alone. I don’t know if you agree, but we NEED Him here with us, “not in some heaven light years away”. Feeling His presence is like having your big brother or sister escort you to elementary school. It’s a confidence and strength that cannot be found anywhere else and fasting is a key to acquiring this reality. To be clear, fasting is not the effort for anyone who experiences health issues. The practice in these situations is abstinence, or for-going anything that we strongly desire, such as a ribeye on Friday night, cheesecake for dessert, or honestly, anything we do purely for our personal enjoyment. Not forever, mind you, just during spiritual exercises such as LENT or 1st Fridays. The medicine is “denying ourselves”, breaking down our pleasure seeking ‘genes’ as a sacrifice for HIM. I’ve said this many times (I will never cease to do so) that every one of us is uniquely and wonderfully made to fulfill our purpose in life. Every quirk, every brilliance, every “bent twig” to our personalities is crafted to provide “light” for others around us who live in darkness. And them for us. Fasting brings this out into the clarity of day for us as we realize our worth in the eyes of GOD, “who loves us so much HE gave HIS only begotten Son that we might have life”. Jn 3:16
GOD Bless You ALL