Very often when asked about fasting or even abstaining from meat for Lent, one of the first things that come to mind is ‘…well, yuh know I find it very good for my body. I feel so different, much better…” I, like, so many others, have probably paid more attention to the physical benefits and given much less thought to the spiritual benefits of this age-old practice.
Having described myself as a “foodie” and a “meat mouth” fasting and abstinence, I always found and still find difficult. At one time, I lived in community, (training for religious life) and always felt like I was going to die whenever the community fasted outside of the “required” Ash Wednesday or Good Friday. As a rule, I kept an emergency snack draw or at least a pack of khurma that I treated like a life saver. Over the years, however, I have come to appreciate and realise that there is much to be gained from fasting. Rachel Fletcher, Administrative Assistant, Archdiocesan Catechetical Office shares on her Lenten experience.
Fasting strengthens our relationship with God
The most obvious of relationships to be helped, one could only hope, is my relationship with God. Is eating less food and avoiding alcohol, helping me to draw closer to God? Archbishop Jason Gordon said to the congregation at Living Water Community (LWC) on the first Sunday of Lent, jokingly but noteworthily “by the end of Lent if you really do the thing well, you will know exactly how much you need a Saviour…and you will know His name too because you will be calling it day in and day out!”
Fasting increases our awareness
Lent provides us with an opportunity to look at the things around us, the needs that await a response but it also is a time for looking deep within. How do I treat my body? Ordinarily, what kind of relationship do I have with food, alcohol or even entertainment? If food provides comfort, alcohol an escape or entertainment a distraction, then, maybe, just maybe I will pay MORE attention to He who dwells within —to see Him more clearly, in myself, in the environment (creation) and in others.
Fasting makes us better companions for the journey
“Let me not only pray for you and your intentions, but let me pray and fast with you for those intentions.” Last October, I made a very conscious decision to fast with my best friend, who is Hindu, in preparation for Divali. This not only created more of an opportunity for us to enter into deeper dialogue about our religious beliefs but it helped to strengthen our friendship, to see the need and or desire of the other as just as important as my own. More than that it served as a good reminder that we do not journey alone!
Fasting can make us more compassionate
When I choose to eat differently, to have less, to restrict myself, I do so by choice. What about those who have no choices? I can think more of them and consider ways in which I can share what I have, ways in which I may care for them. In my parish, we do what we call ‘street ministry.’ We go out several nights a week to provide meals to the homeless of the area. One of the few women that we encounter there, said to us one night, ‘we need more than food!”. In my fasting, I can also ask, what more can I do for those who do not have?
Fasting can teach us Patience —how do I wait?
Sometimes, we want what we want and we want it Now! In life, this is not how things happen. There is a time and a place for everything. Fasting has taught me how to wait for Sunday! Archbishop Gordon in his homily to begin this wonderful season of Lent said “The whole purpose of Lent is to ‘up the game’ and face the temptation!”. While we all want to emerge victorious, we don’t always succeed in the face of temptation. In our shortcomings it is easy to become discouraged, beat up on ourselves and lash out at others. Fasting can remind us of the need to be patient and gentle with ourselves and kind to others.
At the end of the day, God sees and knows the heart. No effort is in vain. By the end of these 40 days, by the time we are ready to celebrate Easter, it is hoped that I would be in some ways different and by God’s grace, much better for having fasted!