Fasting and the Holy Season of Lent

In a few weeks, the Holy Season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on March 1st. It is called a holy
season of the Church, because it is a period of 40 days that have been set apart for the people who God
has set apart, to “be holy, because God is Holy”. It is a time in which we re-prioritize our devotions
and attention to our first love and the One whose love is preeminent. It is a time to reflect upon God’s
blessing and graciousness towards us, especially as we consider the cross. It is a time when we
reexamine our own lives as Christians and our own call to follow Him. It is a time when we train
ourselves to fight sin, the world, and the devil.

As Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, led by the Holy Spirit, he refrained from food and drink and
combined with prayer, prepared to complete the work the Father had given him to accomplish. As a
man, he battled temptation and overcame Satan with the help of God and the weapons of our spiritual
warfare. We too, as Christians, especially during the 40 days of Lent, are called to times of fasting and
prayer, to prepare ourselves to live in the power of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Fasting and prayer is not going to make God love us more because He already loves us perfectly. We
aren’t proving to God how holy we are, or revealing to God how unholy we are, whether we fast and
pray or not, succeed or fail. The Church in its God-given wisdom calls us to fast and pray because we
become more united to the life of Christ in the Church and the world when we do. As the saints and
people of God demonstrated in the Holy Scriptures, there are times to fast and pray in different ways
and for different reasons, such as: to repent, seek God’s will or favor, gain insight, or overcome a
stronghold. In Psalm 35:13, David voluntarily took up fasting in order to humble himself that he might
even pray for his enemies. And when Jesus was asked why his disciples didn’t fast, He said they would
when He was no longer with them. Assuredly, we are called to times of fasting. When we fast, we
voluntarily position ourselves to invite God to work deeper in, through, or for us, individually and/or
collectively. For example:

For Repentance – for turning away from sin and the turning towards God for reconciliation and
restoration. Ref 2 Chron 7:14, Joel 2:12, 1 Samuel 7:6, Joel 2:12, Acts 9:9

For Reception – for openness to the grace of God working in the Sacraments; when seeking Him in His
Word; sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, and in prayer. Ref. Psalm 109:24, Luke 2:27, Matthew 6:16-18

For Favor – to obtain His providential blessings. Ref. Ezra 8:21-23, Nehemiah 1:4

For Intercession – when we seek God on behalf of people and nations Ref. Jeremiah 36:9, Daniel 9:3

For Mourning – when we are greatly grieved, only God can satisfy our need. Ref. 2 Sam 1:2, Daniel 10:2

For Readiness – for preparation to do God’s will, for submission and obedience with joy; to nurture a
spirit of dependence upon Him. Ref. Luke 4:1-2, John 4:32, Acts 13:2

For Rescue – for acknowledgement that Almighty God is the One who can save us from times of trials;
and who is also honored when we call upon Him in the day of trouble. Ref. Psalm 50:15, Ester 4:16,

For Exorcism – for the breaking of certain demonic strongholds. Ref. Matthew 17:21

For Righteousness – for humbling oneself to gain a right heart, mind, and soul. Ref. Psalm 35:13

For Refocus – for a period of personal devotion, to seek to please God. Ref. 1 Corinthians 7:5

Fasting is not about food. It is a spiritual discipline that is part of being a disciple of Christ, which helps us to seek and follow Him who is Holy, so we may walk in His will and His way as we participate in His work. Fasting is not about the stomach. It’s about our hunger and thirst to be more united with Jesus as we
live out our lives as members of His Body. That’s why John Chrysostom, a 4th century Church father also
wrote, “let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye, and the ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all
the members of our bodies.” We become more like Jesus as we deny our whole selves to renew the
new life He gave us.

While Lent is a special season to renew our life in Christ, Jesus called us to deny ourselves and pick up
our cross daily if we are going to follow Him, and so fasting is part of our entire journey. Friday,
especially, the day Christ suffered on the cross is a particular day for Christians to fast regularly, but the Lord may also move you to other times of various lengths. Fasting just doesn’t have to be of food, but
can be of anything that keeps you from devoting yourself and giving your attention more fully to the
Lord when needed to grow or participate in His life. When Scripture says “the flesh and the Spirit
oppose one another”, the “flesh” is not limited to the demands of the physical appetite, but includes the
many desires of the sinful nature which works through all parts of our being. Fasting is used to confront,
deny, and subjugate those desires. Prayer is then added simultaneously, asking God to quicken our
spirits towards Him and fill our hearts, minds, and souls with faith, hope, and love, among other good
things that come from Him. We are taught in God’s Word in Galatians 5, ”live by the Spirit, and you will
not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” and that “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but
painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been
trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:11. Let us therefore allow spiritual discipline to do its work in us.

Fasting will lead us to a change of heart and mind, so that we are more united with God’s. As a result
we should ultimately see those changes manifest in our personal and professional relationships as well
as with God. That’s the point of fasting. Fasting should bear fruit not only in and for our individual
selves, but in the Church, the workplace, and the community. God exhorts in Isaiah 58, “Is not this the
kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the
oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the
poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your
own flesh and blood?” Why? Because this is what is in God’s heart and mind. He loves and cares for
the world, but He also chooses to work through us, His people in the Church. And so for the sake of our
souls and the Gospel, let us fast and pray that we might also be quickened by Him.

Here are some ways you might fast and pray or seek personal growth as a follower of Jesus Christ…

Consider different times and ways to pray. Lenten Devotionals will be made available, as well as
pamphlets outlining the Daily Office of Prayer.

Historically, the Church has fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays, usually refraining from eating meat.

You might eat lighter meals or give up lunch one or more days, and praying instead. Perhaps dessert?

You might consider a diet of bread and water for periods of time.

You might consider drinking juice or water instead of soda, wine, or beer.

You might consider reading a portion of Lenten Scripture around the dinner table with discussion.

You might consider a journal book to record or express thoughts while you read and pray.

You might consider meeting with a priest for private Sacramental Confession.

You might consider serving in a Church ministry, such as altar guild, greeters, readers, projection, etc.

If not already, please consider joining or starting a weekly small group bible study. Intercessor small
groups will be jointly participating in a weekly study focused on “The Cross” and how it applies to our
lives, starting the first week of Lent, which is the first week of March.

You might consider making a prayer list of one or more people to pray for, from your family, workplace,
or neighborhood, and begin a model of personal-relational evangelism called Prayer-Care-Share. At
least we can consider and pray about how we might become more Christ-like towards them.

You might start the practice of prayer-walking around your neighborhood once per week.

You might consider praying for and inviting someone to a Holy Week service.

You might consider giving up or decreasing the watching television, or the use of other electronics, and
reading instead. Perhaps Facebook?

You might consider giving away something you possess to someone else with less.

You might consider attempting to reconcile with another person.

You might consider visiting a shut-in, an orphan or a widow, or someone in prison.

You might consider volunteering at a pregnancy crisis center.

You might consider other unexpected acts of compassion or seeking justice for the poor.

Next: Read some quotes below from the Church and Dessert Fathers

Pope Clement I (died 99 or 101)
“Let them, therefore, with fasting and with prayer make their adjurations, and not with the elegant and
well-arranged and fitly-ordered words of learning, but as men who have received the gift of healing
from God, confidently, to the glory of God. By your fastings and prayers and perpetual watching,
together with your other good works, mortify the works of the flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit” –

Didache (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) (c. 70-140)
“Before the baptism, moreover, the one who baptizes and the one being baptized must fast, and any
others who can. And you must tell the one being baptized to fast for one or two days beforehand. Your
fasts must not be identical with those of the hypocrites.”

The Shepherd of Hermas (c. 90-140)
“This fasting … is very good, provided the commandments of the Lord be observed … First of all, be on
your guard against every evil word, and every evil desire, and purify your heart from all the vanities of
this world. If you guard against these things, your fasting will be perfect. And you will do also as follows. Having fulfilled what is written, in the day on which you fast you will taste nothing but bread and water; and having reckoned up the price of the dishes of that day which you intended to have eaten, you will
give it to a widow, or an orphan, or to some person in want… If you observe fasting, as I have
commanded you, your sacrifice will be acceptable to God, and this fasting will be written down; and the
service thus performed is noble, and sacred, and acceptable to the Lord.”

The Desert Fathers (c. 250-300)
“Abba Isidore said, “If you fast regularly, do not be inflated with pride; if you think highly of yourself
because of it, then you had better eat meat. It is better for a man to eat meat than to be inflated with
pride and glorify himself”

Macarius of Egypt (ca. 300 – 391)
“This is the mark of Christianity: however much a man toils, and however many righteous deeds he
performs, to feel that he has done nothing, and in fasting to say, “This is not fasting,” and in praying,
“This is not prayer,” and in perseverance at prayer, “I have shown no perseverance; I am only just
beginning to practice and to take pains”; and even if he is righteous before God, he should say, “I am not
righteous, not I; I do not take pains, but only make a beginning every day.”

Saint Basil the Great, (330–379)
“Fasting gives birth to prophets and strengthens the powerful; fasting makes lawgivers wise. Fasting is a
good safeguard for the soul, a steadfast companion for the body, a weapon for the valiant, and a
gymnasium for athletes. Fasting repels temptations, anoints unto piety; it is the comrade of
watchfulness and the artificer of chastity. In war it fights bravely, in peace it teaches stillness.”

Saint Augustine (354–430)
“Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite
and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of
chastity.

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