Friday, 29 March 2013

75: What is Christian fasting?

The human being is: body, soul and spirit. (we usually prefer the grammatical expression “is..” then: “made of” to show the unity of body-soul-spirit) 

The body, on top of all its organs, has its 5 senses, and the brain.
The soul has various faculties. The main rational ones are: mind, will and memory. Other faculties are: emotions, imagination, passions, inner senses,... . 
The spirit is the upper part of the soul, the part that enters directly into contact with God. The spirit is the very image and resemblance of God in the human being. 

Fasting exists before the coming of Jesus, in the Old Testament, in other religions before Christ (Hinduism, Buddhism,…) and in religions after Christ (Islam,…). While fasting is universal, Christ gave Fasting a new frame, a new meaning, and new means.

Jesus showed us the Way, by fasting himself for 40 days. He is our Way, and opens the Way for us. Therefore, Fasting has a very specific christian aspect to it. While Fasting, Jesus was tempted in three different ways. This moment is Jesus life, is a light on our way, to show us that we should gain control over ourselves, over our body, our senses, our desire of food.

Fasting is not anymore just a repentance, or penance or ascetical exercise. Not even only a cleansing exercise (as many claim today). It is part of the global effort that the human being makes in order to reach the fullness of his vocation as Christian: the Union with Jesus and the Perfection of Love/charity. 

Christ never separated fasting from praying. If fasting is closer to emptying our body, our tendencies to love food with excess (gluttony), praying is filling the emptiness the exercise/sacrifice of fasting created. This is why they shouldn’t be separated. We empty ourselves from our desires of eating something that pleases us, or the quantity that pleases us, but in the meantime we are invited to fill that empty-gap with prayer, with the consolation of the meditation of the Word of God. 

We are also invited to widen our understanding of fasting: It can be depriving ourselves from something we like. It goes with a renewed inner knowledge of ourselves. Fasting by “not eating” or “eating less”, has its own value. But, without neglecting fasting with food, fasting can go deeper: fasting with the eyes (not spending time with TV and/or internet,…). Fasting can be with the tongue: not saying bad words, not speaking badly about somebody, not loosing time in useless chatting. Fasting can go even deeper: controlling our own thoughts, and stopping from thinking badly about people, refraining from judging any person, … 

We fast, says Jesus, because we don’t have the Groom, Jesus Himself. We fast in order to offer as a small sacrifice, something we like, in return of our spiritual search for Jesus himself. As we see, if we deepen our understanding of fasting, the Christian Fasting, we are in for a spiritual journey that has as a goal: reaching the Groom, Jesus Himself.

We can’t transform fasting to a simple body exercise consisting in depriving ourselves from something, without looking at the frame Jesus gave it, and the means he offered. 

The main means Jesus offered for fasting is the Power of His Own Grace: the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit there is no spiritual life, there is not connection with Jesus, we can’t fast, we can’t listen to His Word. The Holy Spirit fills us with His strength, He motivates us to search for Jesus and Pray, He fills us with the Presence of Jesus. So fasting becomes a deep meeting with Jesus, and a spiritually enjoyable time. In fact, Lent time is a time were the Grace of God is doubled, in order to boost our journey to reach Union with Jesus. 

We can’t even transform fasting in a simple sacrifice, bodily exercise that we offer to God. Christian Fasting is infinitely more than that. It encompasses body, soul and spirit. It encompasses Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and a deep Spiritual Life. 

Sins come from the soul and not from the body. Jesus says: it is from the heart of the human being that come all bad things (bad thoughts, bad acts, hatred, …). Jesus said that the food enters our body and then goes away. It doesn’t bring any moral dimension as such. ("heart" in a biblical meaning means the centre of the human being)

Jesus freed us and said that all foods are good, and that there are no forbidden foods (not the case of Jews who were asked to consider some foods as forbidden, as an education matter). So food is good, but the use we make of food is not always good. It is in order to get control over our body, our gluttony, that we use “Christian fasting” (see: temperance). It is in order to learn the spiritual warfare that we fast and pray. It is in order to reach the Union with Jesus that fasting (in its deep meaning) is a Christian practise. 

The first stage of purification is the purification related to our body and to our senses. Our attachment to food and to worldly goods are the first object of fasting. We offer this or that “attachment” to Jesus, and for the sake of His Love, and therefore we fill the gap or emptiness created by this absence by meditating the Word of God, contemplating Jesus Passion, and helping the needy because Jesus is in the needy.

Remember that the money saved by eating less, or less expensive food/meals, you can put it aside and give it to the poor. Fasting humbles us, and makes us closer to the poor. Jesus is in them, and we can't forget them.

We are far of course from trying to show to anybody that we fast. This is why Jesus said: when you fast, don’t show it to others, it is a matter between you and God (with the advice of your spiritual master). 

We are far as well for the very pointless materialistic view that says: this croissant is made of butter or of oil (some Eastern Churches forbid dairy food for certain type of fasting). This would be emptying fast from its deep Christian meaning, frame, and means.


Leonora B said...
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Leonora B said...

Thank you for this post on fasting! It just seems to me, Jean, that this practice of fasting has been lost somewhat in the modern Church. It seems there is not much explanation on the power of fasting or the reasons to fast or how often one should fast. I know that strictly speaking we are obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and that Fridays are a day we ought to try harder to carry out penances.
From the above, I can see that fasting helps us to reach the "Groom" -Jesus. Please could you explain more about the power of fasting?
Also, Jesus in Mk 9:29 explained to the disciples that certain demons cannot be expelled except by prayer and fasting. Does this mean that in certain situations we ought to combine the two? Like when? How often should a Christian fast?