What did Jesus do to get the maximum out of his ministry? He prepared by first going into the wilderness to fast for forty days.
Jesus said in Matthew 6:16: “When you fast...” not “If you fast...” The first Christians fasted (Acts 13:2-3; 14:23). It was nothing new. Moses and Elijah had done the same. Fasting and putting on sackcloth saved the city of Nineveh from destruction in the book of Jonah. King David said, "I humble myself through fasting” (Psalm 35:13).
This past Lent, citing the example of Jesus, AsiaNews.it reported that the archbishop of Singapore, Msgr. William Gob, proclaimed a fast. In his Lenten pastoral letter, he called on Singapore’s 200,000 Catholics (5% of the population compared to 45% for Buddhism) to fast each Friday with water and bread to promote the New Evangelization.
“For prayer to be effective, it must be accompanied by fasting,” he wrote. “We learn this from Jesus, our model in evangelization, by looking at how he prepared his ministry, going into the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days.” Msgr. Gob emphasized that adding fasting to “devout and fervent prayers” is the only way to defeat the "hostile secularism" that is undermining society. He also credited fasting with removing obstacles while cleansing us from sin.
But for it to bear fruit, Msgr. Gob said fasting should be a source of opening our hearts to God and showing mercy and charity to others. He recommended doing it in union with others to benefit from encouragement and mutual support and to pray and read Scripture together. He also suggested using mealtimes to pray or go to Eucharistic adoration.
Mission Talk on Fasting
During a mission I recently attended, a priest explained that fasting strengthens the soul to take command over the body. He made the following points:
- Jesus fasted, so how can I not?
- Jesus told us to pray without ceasing (1Thes 5:17). Fasting adds a physical commitment to heighten our prayers.
- The hunger throughout the day is a reminder of God in our lives and our desire to grow in holiness.
- It boosts our prayer with sacrifice and suffering.
- Fasting increases awareness of our human weakness and dependence on God.
- When asking God for help or answers to prayers, fasting puts sacrifice behind our intentions.
- Sin is about being weak and fasting helps us overcome weakness and strengthening our will power.
- Just as fasting increases our awareness of the subtleties of food, it can increase our awareness of the subtleties that lead to sin through better discernment of good and evil.
Ways to Fast
While it’s true that we can fast from things such as TV or the Internet to make better use of our time, when the Bible referred to fasting, it referred to food.
Bread and water is a radical way to fast, but it offers radical results. When the Church requires fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, it means one large meal and two smaller ones with no snacking. It’s a big sacrifice for some. For others, for instance people in the Third World, it would be a feast.
With that in mind, we can add to the fast by eating simply even to the point of plain food that only offers nutrition, not enjoyment. This allows a person unable to fast strictly because of health reasons or physical demands to still sacrifice through fasting.
Fasting is an opportunity. As they say in sports: no pain, no gain. With so much to gain by following the example of Jesus, it’s unthinkable for us not to use this powerful spiritual tool.
Copyright 2015 Patti Maguire Armstrong.
Photo via Morguefile.
About the Author
Patti Maguire Armstrong is the mother of 10, and has a B.A. in social work and M.A. in public administration. Her newest book is Holy Hacks: Everyday Ways to Live Your Faith & Get to Heaven. Others include Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and the Amazing Grace Series. Follow her at @PattiArmstrong and read her blog at PattiMaguireArmstrong.com.