5 Ways to Help the Practice of Fasting Become More Fruitful

On biblical reading, the fundamental vocation of human beings is to give God right praise. In this act of adoration, we become rightly ordered in ourselves and we create conditions for the possibility of the right ordering of the world around us. Accordingly, sin is a suspension of right praise, a turning of the heart toward creatures rather than the Creator, which results in the disintegration of self and of society. (…) Jesus comes to restore God’s holy people to right praise – and hence He turns upside down and inside out all forms of false worship. Thus, as you contemplate the image of Jesus cleansing the Temple, ask yourself the following question, “Precisely what or whom do I worship?”

– Bishop Robert Barron, commenting on Jesus driving the moneychangers out of the Temple

Lent: a Time of Upheaval

Lent is a time of “upheaval”, turning upside down all of the little ways we have grown “comfortable” with our own sin. It is easy to let little things slide – especially little attachments and disordered passions – and it is easy for these things to slide without much awareness on our part. But, as we all know, these little things add up! Lent is like a mirror in which we are shown our true behavior – where, through our practices of prayer and penance, we see exactly how these little things have built up and how they have turned us away from God. This is why the practice of fasting is so beautiful. It helps us to have an awareness of these things and gives us the way in which to turn them around.

One way to approach fasting is to look at what is “off balance.” There are things that can affect the memory of God’s presence in our lives, things that take over the space that is meant for Him: noise, work, food, clothing, entertainment, etc. In short, our attachments to things and creatures. We determine what these things are and practice abstaining from them.

The key to begin the practice of fasting is awareness – and awareness comes from a pure interest in changing, changing for and because of God. By asking ourselves a few questions, we can allow the Holy Spirit to show us where to start. Come Holy Spirit!

5 reflection questions to help with the practice of fasting 

1. What can’t you live without?

Is there a thing or creature comfort that you cannot live without? Chances are, the answer to that question will help us to see an imbalance or disordered love for that thing. I noticed that I can’t seem to live without coffee in the morning. In looking deeper into that, I noticed that my “need” to make a second cup of coffee for the road tends to make me late!

2. What are you spending the most time on?

Does this thing take time away from quality time with your family? Time away from prayer or spiritual reading? I have a practice of going to daily Mass. However, when I get really involved in a work project, it becomes so difficult to leave it and go to Mass – I so badly want to talk myself out of going, and it is easy to rationalize that. In looking deeper, I can see that I am rather attached to the idea of “productivity” and checking things off the to-do list!

3. What are you using that is “against” its purpose?

Things have a usefulness that is very specific – they were created for a purpose. For example, food is made to nourish us and give us sustenance, and it also serves a social purpose. However, food, especially in our culture, is often used as an emotional crutch or “treat.” I notice this in myself. After a hard day, sometimes all I want to do is eat “comfort food” and watch a movie. But, when I look deeper into this, I can see that I am using food for more than its purpose. I am neither eating for nourishment nor community, and it is unbalanced.

4. What do you find difficult to control?

Is there something in your life that you consider “out of control”? Addiction is a very common reality in our culture. We are so prone to be out of balance and disordered, that some attachments become very deeply ingrained habits. If we find that we cannot control a behavior, that is a sure sign that we need to fast from it. I think my coffee example from above will serve to explain. I know that making that second cup makes me late. And yet, for some reason “beyond my control”, I continue to make it. In looking at this deeper, I see that I need to first ask Christ to come into the problem with me. I need to surrender this to Him and beg Him to send me His Holy Spirit for the strength to give it up.

5. How are you using your leisure time?

Are you spending time on things that refresh you and give you life? God gave us our time, and we need to be spending it on things that give us life – especially on the Sabbath. This is referred to as leisure, and this is the most important time for us, because it is where we refresh and reframe ourselves to be able to give our best to God. The feeling of “emptiness” is a good measure for me. For example, I love films – and watching them is not a bad thing. But sometimes, I decide to watch them because I feel too tired to read, write or paint – which are all things that give me life. When I make this decision, I usually end up feeling a sort of emptiness after, and I am more tired than before. When I look deeper, I can see that I made the decision out of laziness, and this “emptiness” is the result!

– Morgan Smith is the Director of Communication for Catholic Rural Life and the creator of several faith formation programs

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