The Physical Fast

In 2009, when I first became a Catholic, I felt called again to resume my once-a-week physical fast to stop abortion.

Some 25 years before, when our children were young, a Christian friend, Debbie Streeker, and I had fasted weekly as a team. As stay-at-home moms saddened by legalized abortion, we had to do something. It wasn't easy then with little ones ducking between our legs in our individual homes. It wouldn't be easy now at age 60. But this longing to fast again weekly, now as a Catholic, felt right. Summarized, it was a desire to take up my cross, deny myself in a small way, and NOT chew food every Tuesday--My once-a-week physical fast.

The result of my fasting prayers--our adopted number five

The CCC defines “fasting” as refraining from food and drink as an expression of interior penance, in imitation of the fast of Jesus for forty days in the desertFasting is an ascetical practice recommended in Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers; it is sometimes prescribed by a precept of the Church, especially during the liturgical season of Lent" (538, 1434, 2043).

As Catholics, of course, we are only required to fast on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and on Good Friday, the day of Christ's crucifixion.  Anyone over the age of 18, but under the age of 60, should eat only one full meal and two small meals on those two days, and The Catholic Church encourages Catholics to observe this fast. Of course, ”ascetical” means practicing self-denial; and in this instant age of gratification, that self-mortification is a healthy habit. (The Frugal Catholic)

My fasting day begins with praying The Rosary and The Divine Mercy Chaplet. During that day, I drink unflavored beverages such as plain black coffee, plain black tea, plain green tea, water, or unflavored seltzer water. I emphasize PLAIN, for anything containing any FOOD flavor such as lemon, sugar, cream, etc. starts the hunger pangs and brings them on more strongly. Those food flavors (even diet drinks) trick the body into thinking food is coming, and thus insulin is released which causes stomach growling. So to avoid those pangs as much as possible, I drink those plain beverages during the day; and I also consume such food stuffs as a protein shake, kefir, milk, and a drink of alcohol at night. A total of about 500 liquid calories. Going without chewing is the hardest part for me, but the tiny sacrifice is worth it.

To add, when a hunger pang does strike, I take it as a good time to pray for the needs of God, others, or myself. Those growls are like a clock chiming on the hour: My stomach's hunger noise is a notification to pray. Very easy to do.

Fasting can also assume  others forms than how I do it.  Patty Raymond of Saint Cecilia Catholic Church says, “I find ways to fast each week to deny myself the comfort of food that I may feast on the comfort of God’s presence.”  Another parishioner fasts by giving up wine for that day.  Some fast with only bread and water. Still others fast from such things as watching television: It is up to you and God.

After fasting for a day, you'll be glad for the self-mastery.  And you will be pleased that you have given God something He can use. I say that last sentence, because we are always asking our Heavenly Father for more.  But Jesus stated in Mark 9:29 in referring to an unclean spirit which had possessed a child, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.”  Thus our fasting along with prayer is a gift we can give to God for His purposes. Isn't that amazing? Even angels can't fast. Only humans can return this gift for the salvation of souls.

 From once a week fasting, you'll experience answered prayers in ways you didn't foresee. For example, twenty-five years ago, I fasted weekly that abortion would stop.  Perhaps those prayers were heard by my fifth child's Russian mother who chose to give her life, not death. I believe they were.

And one final thought is that through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (money to the poor for food that you didn’t eat), you will be controlling the passions of the body; and that is something from which anyone in this day and age could  benefit.  As Neil Raymond adds, “Jesus told us that sometimes we need to fast along with prayer.  I’m taking Him at His word.”

(An excellent reference book for fasting is Fast, Feast, Repeat by Gin Stevens.)

Martha Wild King, M.Ed., Author

The Frugal Catholic: Learn to live on less to give and save more.