Upon becoming Catholic, I felt called to fast and pray on a regular basis–something I had practiced 25 years before. I learned that The Church used to prescribe rules for the Lenten fast (including abstaining from all meat and eating only one full meal per day). We Catholics, now, are only required to fast on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and on Good Friday, the day that Jesus Christ was crucified. Anyone over the age of 18, but under the age of 60, should eat only one full meal on those two days. They can have small amounts of food in the morning and evening, but The Catholic Church encourages Catholics to observe this fast. Extreme fasting, however, can be physically harmful, and that does not advance us spiritually.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church 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 desert. Fasting 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).
Of course,”ascetical” means practicing self-denial, and in this instant age of gratification, that self-mortification is a healthy habit. To start the spiritual gift of fasting, pick a day and practice it. For me, it is every Tuesday (the T being in the shape of the cross), and during that day, I chew nothing except the Host of the Eucharist. I will drink fluids–juice, tea, water, and wine or cocoa at night– but I focus on prayer when hunger hits. My main thrust for prayer is that my five children will find the fullness of the Catholic Church and that abortion will be stopped and adoption replace it. (Two of them already have found Catholicism.) This day is also a time to pray that the governmental mandates being forced onto practicing Christians will stop. The fasting day begins, of course, with praying The Rosary and The Divine Mercy Chaplet. And fasting can assume forms other 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. Still others fast from such things as watching television.
After the fast, you will be glad for self-mastery. You will be pleased that you have more prayerfully focused since Jesus stated in Mark 9:29 (RSV) in referring to an unclean spirit which had possessed a child, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.” Our power as people is in denying ourselves. Jesus confirmed this to all in Luke 9:23 (RSV), “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” You will understand that your prayers are being answered in ways you may see now or thirty years from now. For example, twenty-five years ago I fasted weekly that abortion would stop. Perhaps those prayers were heard by my daughter’s Russian mother who chose to give her life. I believe they were.
Of greater importance is that through prayer, fasting and alms giving (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 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.”