Have you ever fasted? Ever thought about it? Suppose you could add the extra oomph of hunger pangs to your prayer power. The kind of oomph that could drive out the darkness. Might it be wise to learn how? Yes Sir. Yes, Mam.
My fasting journey started in the late 1980s when my friend and I fasted and prayed on the same day that abortion would be overturned and cease. Debbie Streeker and I both had two small children, so it wasn’t easy, and we certainly didn’t see much in the way of our prayers working then. Now, 40 years later, with another 40 Days for Life concluding, perhaps many of our prayers have been answered, for thousands of children’s lives have been saved. And since becoming Catholic in 2009, I have again been fasting weekly for six years. So it is time for a report to you, my readers, because prayer (see TFC February 2015), fasting, and almsgiving are part of what we should be doing this Lent and beyond, as our interior penance. (CCC 1434)
WHO Can Fast?
Anyone who eats food can benefit from a fast. Of course, it is most definitely not advisable if you are pregnant or nursing, but we see fasting in both the Old Testament and the New throughout Sacred Scripture. Moses fasted for 40 days and nights before receiving the Ten Commandments (Exodus 24:18). Queen Esther fasted for three days before going to King Ahasuerus the Great to entreat him to help save her people, the Jews (Esther 4: 15-16). Saul (Paul) and Barnabas were worshiping the Lord and fasting with other prophets and teachers in Antioch when the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13: 1-2 ) So we have many Biblical examples of holy souls and saints who chose fasting as a means to not only hear God’s voice but to know His will more clearly.
WHAT is Fasting?
According to The Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Fasting is Refraining from food and drink as an expression of interior penance, in imitation of the fast of Jesus in the desert for forty days and forty nights. It is also prescribed by the Church, especially during Lent's liturgical season." Now with that definition in tow, no one in their right mind could accomplish it—40 days without food or drink? Well, according to scripture, Matthew 4: 1-2, it says, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward, he was hungry.” It seems like if he didn’t drink anything, it would have said, “He was hungry and thirsty.” And if a man (or woman) has enough water, he or she can fast for 40-50 days without suffering permanent injury. So I don’t know if Christ went without water, but He certainly went without food.
When I was doing network marketing several years ago, I talked with a Southern gentleman attempting to fast without food and water for 40 days. I was never able to reach him again.
So it is probably safe to say that fasting generally is going without food. Fasting can also be denying ourselves other pleasures. One man in my church, Saint Cecilia Catholic Church on Bainbridge Island, WA, fasts three times weekly from wine. Another lady fasts from gossip. And within the Catholic Relief Services CRS Rice Bowl 2015 Lenten Calendar, crsricebowl.org, they also listed fasting from the following: desserts, beverages (except water), meat, snacks, and eating out. For the sake of this blog post, however, I am going to focus on fasting from “chewing food.” That I can gnaw on.
WHEN Do You Fast?
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops offers us this information: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. Also, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence [of meat]. For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal. Two smaller meals may also be taken, but not equal to a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards. If possible, the fast on Good Friday is continued until the Easter Vigil (on Holy Saturday night) as the “paschal fast” to honor the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus, and men may see their fasting prepare themselves to share more fully, celebrate more readily his Resurrection." Now, these are our prescribed precepts as Catholics; I would encourage you, nevertheless, to consider fasting once a week in addition to the above. For myself, I picked Tuesday to fast because the “T” is in the shape of the cross. I could have picked Thursday too, or better yet, Friday, in honor of our Lord’s death. But Tuesday it has been for six years.
WHERE Do You Fast?
Well, Jesus went into the wilderness too fast, and Moses fasted on a mountaintop, but since I am just a normal, ordinary mom and wife, I would have trouble heading off to those places, so I just fast every Tuesday in my home and on the go. Of course, you want to keep your fasting to yourself because Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:16-18, “…do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that men may see their fasting….But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” In other words, don’t let other people know you are fasting and look as good as you normally do.
WHY Do You Fast?
Since I can only speak for myself, these are my reasons:
Fasting gives my prayers an “extra whammy.” In the Bible, the Disciples of Jesus tried to cast out a mute spirit convulsing a boy. They were unable. When Jesus performed the miracle, the disciples asked Him why they couldn’t. He said in Mark 9: 28-29, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.” So if you want to give your prayers that extra pull, add fasting.
Fasting unites me with those who know hunger. We, in America, all have so much in the way of food. So with each hunger pang, I can lift it to Jesus and ask him to be with those who experience hunger as an awful way of life. Especially tiny children. I ask that my prayers may save their lives.
Fasting simplifies my life to focus more fully on my prayers. No meal preparation equals more time to pray and offer up my requests. Unless I feel inspired to make a family meal, the rest of the family comes up with their own nutrition.
I know I am a sinner like Pope Francis has said of himself. I need to take up my cross and practice self-denial. Fasting has helped me truly see what I really need versus what I really want. Each week, it is a small way to “take up my cross,” but the results are huge.
To lose weight?? Well, not really, but maybe if you "clean fast" (see below). You will lose a pound or two each day you fast, but it generally comes back on. Maybe it has helped stabilize my weight where it is, and it is a good health practice because it gives your intestinal system a needed “Sabbath” rest.
HOW Do You Fast?
Again, I can only speak for myself, but I start my day with "a clean fasting beverage," which is very satisfying. During the day as a woman, I will ingest approximately 500 calories of liquids. For a man, 600 calories. Those calories will be a protein shake or kefir with yogurt and milk. The rest of the day, I drink clean fasting beverages: black coffee, black tea, unflavored green tea, plain water, unflavored seltzer water, or a cup of hot water, plain of course. For some of you, those fluids might sound awful in their unaltered versions, but when you experience how much they curb hunger, their lack of sweetness or milky flavor is worth it. The reason you want all of your beverages to be plain is that when any food flavor hits the tongue, the brain says, "Food is on its way," and releases insulin. That is why people seem to gain weight with diet sodas: the brain thinks the aspartame is sugar, and here comes the insulin. For the best information on fasting, I urge you to read Fast, Feast, Repeat by Gin Stevens. She taught me how to "clean fast" (as described above), and that has made a world of difference for a full day's fast.
When dinner time comes, I will prepare a meal for my family, sit down with them and enjoy a glass of wine. Sometimes I will end my evening with a cup of hot chocolate or some more kefir.
So with each hunger pang, lift your sufferings to Jesus and pray for the salvation of souls, God's Divine Mercy, or any other needs you might have. I truly believe that my simple prayers have been blessed, for my husband and our fifth child became Catholic a year after I did, and my second son a year later. My goal is to convert all my children to Catholicism and an end to abortion. If our Lord Jesus could fast for 40 days, why can’t we do it for just 4 days a month?
Give it a try. The only side effects are huge blessings!
Martha Wild King, M. Ed., Author
The Frugal Catholic: Learn to live on less to give and save more.