By: Fr. Blake Britton
Fasting is among the oldest religious practices in the history. For millennia, it has been recognized as a means of achieving virtue. Nowadays, however, in a society that is dictated by consumerism, materialism and an overall lack of self-restraint, the discipline of fasting is widely unappreciated. The Catholic Church remains one of the few institutions on earth to uphold its dignity and assert its importance in the spiritual life. So, we must ask: Why is Mother Church so adamant about this ancient custom? St. Basil the Great notes that fasting is as old as humanity itself. As a matter of fact, it was the first command human beings received from God: “You shall not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:17). In this primordial mandate, Basil recognizes a dual-faceted purpose to fasting. Firstly, it aids the soul in acquiring a maturity. As any psychologist will recognize, lack of discipline and self-control are clear signs of immaturity. The failure to be patient, make wise decisions and responsibly enjoy food, drink or relationships represents a severe lapse in human development. This is why practicing self-restraint on a regular basis through fasting is so crucial. It is not just about giving something up because the Church says so. Remember, it is not good because the Church says it; the Church says it because it is good! The more we practice abstinence, the more mature we become, passing from the immaturity of immediate gratification to the maturity of regulated consumption. Secondly, St. Basil says that fasting properly orders the appetites of our body and soul. “Man does not live on bread alone” (Matt. 4:4). Human beings are not animals. We have appetites beyond the carnal. Our wills are not driven by mere instinct. There is supposed to be a deeper reason for our actions. When my stomach hungers from fasting, it is a reminder of the spiritual hunger my soul experiences at every moment of my existence. The soul is constantly aching for the mercy and goodness of God. Are we feeding this ache or letting our souls starve? Are we nourishing our spirits with the rich food of the Eucharist, Sacrament of Reconciliation, Sacred Scripture and contemplative prayer? We know that fasting was an integral part of Jesus’ life, so much so, that He spent forty days in the desert abstaining from worldly sustenance. Nothing the Lord does is coincidental or unplanned. Every event of His life teaches us something profound about our own existence as persons and our vocation as Christians. In Christ’s fasting, we see a way by which to share in the Divine Life of God. By growing in self-restraint from our immature impulses and properly nourishing our souls through fasting, we will surely grow in intimacy with the Lord who loves us this Lenten season.