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A Fresh Look at Fasting
Fasting has a bad reputation. Depriving oneself of food is never a pleasant experience. For women especially, fasting is often connected with crash diets and the desire to obtain an unrealistic body shape. Can anything good really be said about fasting? Surprisingly enough, the answer is "yes."
Fasting as a spiritual practice has been going on for thousands of years. It is a sign of penance and penitence. It provides a greater awareness of one's body and one's dependence on God. Sr. Mary Margaret Funk, O.S.B., writing in Tools Matter for the Spiritual Life (Continuum International, 2001) states, "Fasting is not always a negative thing. In reality, it is a middle way. It's just as objectionable to eat too little as to eat too much . . . Gluttony is indiscriminate eating or drinking. Fasting is eating mindfully with full attention." By paying attention to what we eat, we can achieve a sense of "balance and discrimination" that can assist us in other areas of our lives as well.
Fasting as a spiritual tool should never be done for its own sake but rather as a means to achieve a greater good. It is an exercise in self-discipline and should be done in conjunction with prayer and good works. It also need not be limited to only food. Fasting from bad habits (ex. smoking, swearing) or even from distractions (ex. television, radio) can be "a means of loosening attachments which might keep us from being open to the bigger picture of God's presence in our lives. . . Such fasting naturally tends toward prayer." 1 Fasting provides an opportunity to strip away those things which we hold to as lesser gods in our lives so that we may focus on the God who gave us life.
Renee LaReau, writing in The Catholic Telegraph of Cincinnati, Ohio, brings up another important aspect of fasting. Through our fasting we stand in solidarity with those throughout the world for whom hunger is a way of life. It is a reminder that we have been blessed, "that the days of Lent are different from other days of the year." 2
Lastly, fasting provides a way of approaching Easter with renewed optimism. On Easter, we celebrate the Risen Lord, the triumph over death and the gift of new life. Lent should be a time to shake off our old lives, the habits and attachments that keep us from being the people God wants us to be. That way, we will truly be able to embrace the joy of the Easter Season.
1 Fr. Liam, S.P. http://www.theservants.org/priestlypeople//pp%202-99%20part1.html
2 Renee LaReau, "Learn More About Fasting This Lent" The Catholic Telegraph http://www.catholiccincinnati.org/tct/mar0504/030504lareau.html
Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur is editor of The Spiritual Woman Newsletter