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THE SPIRITUAL BENEFITS OF FASTING FOR CHRISTIANS

13 Mar

PUT OFF THE ‘OLD SELF’, PUT ON THE NEW

Being Christian means to follow Jesus. Our Lord rebuffs Satan’s evil temptations in the desert and reveals himself as God’s Servant, totally obedient to the divine will. His victory over the tempter in the desert anticipates his victory in the Passion and Cross, the supreme act of obedience and love for the Father.

Jesus’ victory is therefore ours to share. How? Trusting in his resurrection, the Church, Scriptures and the great teachers of the early Church invite us to take up the very ‘weapons’ that Christ himself used. Fasting, prayer and almsgiving express conversion in relation to oneself, to God and to others. The ‘old self’ of selfishness, fear and greed (so alive and well within us) can be replaced by the ‘new self’ of love, service and mercy (Christ himself).

To help us, the Church has particular seasons and days of penance during the year, such as Lent (the forty days of preparation for Easter) and Fridays (commemorating the day of the Lord’s death). These intense moments of ‘penitential’ practice encourage us to make these voluntary ‘acts of self-denial’. They can also become a year-round habit and not be restricted to particular times or seasons. (It has been recommended that, if you wish to but can’t do a full or semi- fast each Friday because of health reasons, to abstain from meat on Fridays as usual and refrain from something else licit and pleasing to you, and to do a prayer vigil for the duration of an hour on Thursday night).

What do we gain from fasting?

Fasting is rooted in experiencing hunger for food, but it goes beyond this. We go hungry so that we might discover what we really need, our true food: Christ. “Man cannot live on bread alone…”. We may fast from ‘good’ things, humanely speaking (food, drink, films, television, music, computer, electronic gaming, social networking, creature comforts, favourite things) and in so doing find a life-giving gratitude for such gifts.

It is also an opportunity to look hard at all we consume, and so begin to practise some discipline in areas where we need to battle against evil and sin. Here our fasting may be such a battleground, where we take a stand after discerning where the evil we renounced at baptism may be driven out.
Fasting clears the decks, simplifies and frees – for the spiritual to be firmly rooted in our lives: for our love for God and neighbour to increase.

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