When most Christians think of Lent, they think of fasting. It's the most widely known practice associated with this holy season. But we must be careful to fast with the right intentions and not fall into self-serving measures.
What do we mean by this? It's easy for our Lenten fast to take the shape of a New Year's resolution, as Father Mike Schmitz says. We give up chocolate, desserts, junk food or snacking in a two-for-one effort to honor God and emerge at Easter a healthier individual. And while fasting from these kinds of things is not bad, our intention behind our fast is what sets our Lenten sacrifice apart from a 40-day health reset.
Why do we fast during Lent?
There are lots of reasons for fasting during the season of Lent—an effort to join in Christ's suffering, detaching ourselves from worldly things, making more room for Christ in our lives, practicing holy habits that will help us grow in virtue and relationship with Christ—the list goes on. But, what is important to note is that our Lenten fast is not about us, it's about Jesus Christ.
For this reason, we'd like to hone in on two Christ-centered purposes for Lenten fasting.
First, we fast to repent, to turn away from our sin. Even though the penitential act of fasting cannot make up for our sin, it shows our sorrow and offers a small reparation for our offense against God. Also, when we fast, we discipline our body and train our mind to be obedient to our will. By building and strengthening this habit of discipline, we prepare ourselves to resist future sin. Fasting, therefore, becomes an act of worship where we turn away from evil, turn toward God.
To give God access.
Secondly, we fast to give the Lord access to our hearts. When we fast from things, we remove clutter from our day, lives and schedules. This frees up time and space, physically, mentally and spiritually to focus on Christ and to allow him to take up more room in our lives and a greater presence in our hearts.
In case you missed PART ONE—check out The Three Pillars of Lent: Prayer to learn more about how our prayer life is integral to our Lenten journey.
Adding Fasting to our Lenten Routine
Another important thing to note is that we should not fast simply because the Church asks us to. Although there is merit in obedience, we will get far more out of Lent if we pray and ask the Lord to move our hearts to fast for the right reasons: out of love for him and a desire to grow closer to him. Father Felmar Fiel SVD describes, in his Lenten reflection, this need to worship God in both the spirit and the letter of the law:
"God wants us to worship Him beyond rituals. During the time of Jesus, the Jews believed that God was present among them in the most holy place in the temple. Thus, believers were to bring gifts to be given to God. Some gifts were offered to confess guilt and ask for forgiveness of sins while other offerings were for worshipping, thanksgiving and showing commitment. However, the perfect worship that God wants is not ritual sacrifice but the day-to-day living out of love, mercy and charity. It is very easy to donate money, to pledge or offer gifts in our parishes, but certainly it is harder to be involved in the realities of our fellow parishioners. Jesus himself admonished: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice' (Matthew 9:13)."
Join Our Missionaries in Prayer this Lent
When you are choosing your Lenten sacrifice (or if you've already chosen it, evaluating it) search for something that will accomplish the goals we mentioned above. Another great way to go about this is to ask yourself these questions: What are my greatest sins? What actions/behaviors/things lead me to these sins? What is keeping me from growing in relationship with the Lord?
Consider fasting from one of these things for Lent. We promise, your Lenten prayer and sacrifice will be more fruitful and will lead you into a deeper relationship with Christ. We are praying for you, God bless!