The Purpose of Fasting

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The three pillars of Lent are prayer, almsgiving and fasting. Today we concentrate on fasting. In the first reading today from Isaiah 58, we see what God desires from a fast. Be sure to read this, preferably multiple times. It should be ingrained in our hearts. In the Gospel reading from Matthew 9, Jesus explains why His disciples do not fast like the Pharisees.

Too often we think of fasting simply as not eating, or at least not eating very much. In the Catholic faith, there are only two fast days each year, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. That means fasting from food. But in a larger context, Lent is a time of fasting from many things. Perhaps it is a food item. Maybe you gave up chocolate or coffee or sweets or chips or some other food that you love. There is merit in that. But can fasting from these things actually have an opposite effect? I believe so. If giving up something makes us moody or irritable or snippy, if it causes us to become worse and not better people, then perhaps that particular fast is not the right thing to do. If your fasting drives you, and perhaps others, away from God, then maybe it’s time to reconsider.

Fasting should bring us closer to God. It gives us the opportunity to rely on God’s strength and not our own. When you feel that grumble in your belly, when you get that seemingly uncontrollable urge to eat that from which you are fasting, then it is time to turn your heart and mind to God. Pray for the strength to get through the moment. Better yet, pray for someone else. When we turn our thoughts to others, especially those who are suffering, God honors that. A good fast will lead to a deeper communion with God.

Father, may our fasting be acceptable to you, and lead us to greater love for and trust in you. Amen.

Today’s Readings


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