6 Ways Fasting Is Not Just About Suffering - Ft Camille
Why do we fast?
Here at Swole.Catholic, we strive to promote the goodness of the body and the importance of caring for that body through the pursuit of faithful fitness. Holy Mother Church teaches us about the inherent dignity of the body and the goodness that it both is and shows forth. She has spent the larger part of the last 50 years focused on sharing this wisdom regarding the importance of honoring the body.
So why in the world does she also tell us to fast, to do something so unpleasant? We’re told not to abuse our bodies, so why do we take the time during Lent to deny it in such a tangible way? Why are we told to not give the body what it wants, namely food?
If you’re anything like me, the first answer that comes to mind is suffering. It seems obvious. Jesus suffered, so we partake in his suffering and therefore become more like him. He spent 40 days in the desert, so we spend 40 days in a similar state of deprivation. He felt immense physical pain at His Passion, so we unite ourselves to Him by experiencing a small amount through fasting.
Yes. All that is true. And a deep understanding of that is essential to a fruitful Lent.
But it’s easy to think that suffering is the only reason we do it, and in doing so cheapen the full value of fasting. The climax of the Christian faith is not just suffering, but the joy that comes from unity with Christ. It’s true, unity with Christ undoubtedly means suffering, but misery itself is not the end goal. So how can we view fasting more fully as a gift and a path to holiness and growth, instead of just a miserable experience?
"The climax of the Christian faith is not just suffering, but the joy that comes from unity with Christ."
We’ve put together a list of ways that fasting isn’t just about suffering. Our prayer is that this Ash Wednesday, we are able to approach the practice of fasting with an open mind and heart, ready to receive the fruits that the Church promises in return for our faithfulness to her wisdom.
1. Fasting is efficacious
Jesus declares in Mark 9:29, after His disciples had attempted to cast a demon out of a boy, that certain kinds of demons can only be driven out by prayer and fasting. A treatment of this reality would require a much more in-depth discussion than we can have here, but nonetheless, we can know for sure that fasting is efficacious, that it has an effect on spiritual realities. It was practiced in the Old Testament and has been practiced by the saints through the last two centuries. It’s fruitful and can be used as a way to combat evil in a very tangible way
"His disciples asked him, "Why could we not cast the demon out?" And He said to them, "This kind cannot be driven out by anything except prayer and fasting."
2. Fasting helps us to fight against concupiscence
Concupiscence is essentially that side effect of original sin that remains in the person, even after Baptism. It’s those desires of the flesh that cause us to tend toward sin. It’s what Paul talks about in Romans 7 when he laments his carnal desires to sin even though his mind desires to serve Christ. Fasting is an exercise that helps us to, in a sense, “practice” fighting off the desires of the flesh. We acknowledge something that the body wants and make the conscious decision to deny it. By this practice, future temptations to fleshly sins like gluttony or lust aren’t quite as daunting because we’ve practiced allowing our minds to guide our decisions, not our bodies.
3. Fasting provides room and time for the spiritual
It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind. It’s easy to allow the minutiae of life to take precedence and distract us from higher things. It goes without saying that these small things are still important. We have to do laundry, we have to file taxes, we have to take our cars in for repair, we have to do lots of things to make life just go. And while it’s good to have a routine and to build practices into our daily lives, it’s also good to shake things up sometimes. By fasting occasionally, we disrupt the mundane and are able to carve out just a little more time that we can dedicate to prayer and spiritual thoughts. When we’re not worrying about what to eat and when, we can spend that time and energy on something else -- namely, God.
"with surgery, a patient must be clean and empty to allow for the surgeon to work; So to, you must be clean and empty to allow God to work within you."
4. Fasting gives us a greater appreciation of feasting
The season of Lent is end-capped with two occasions of feasting (one official, one decidedly not). The human body and most societies are structured in such a way as to highlight the necessity of a cycle. We can see this in the typical workweek: 5 days of work, 2 days of rest. We can see it in the human body: 16 hours of wakefulness, 8 hours of sleep. The occurrence of one of these parts highlights the necessity of the other. When one experiences a fast, the feast or indulgence that comes after is generally more triumphal. How meaningful would a birthday cake be if you had a slice every other day throughout the year? Likewise, the sense of celebration through the feast that takes place at Easter is heightened. It also helps us to be more thankful for our blessings.
5. Fasting allows us to unite ourselves to God
Eating is, in a lot of ways, a pretty mundane thing. It’s normal, it’s necessary. It’s something you have to do and something you generally do every day. It’s in no way uncommon. By fasting, we can take something that is typical and commonplace and give it to the Lord to elevate. We can take our eating, our sustenance, and unite the activity to the spiritual realm. We derive a new purpose or goal through our eating or restraint from it. When we do eat, we can learn to appreciate the food for what it is (flavorful, nutritious, sweet, savory, etc.) and can therefore give thanks for the gift that food is, that even in its mundanity, it’s been given to us to enjoy and take healthy delight in.
6. Fasting is physically beneficial
The providence of God is awe-inspiring. He gives us commands, but His commands seldom serve only a singular purpose. In His providence, He’s designed our bodies in such a way as to actually benefit from the practice of fasting. Remember that, as with anything, too much is detrimental. Our bodies need nutrition, and fasting isn’t meant to be done over-regularly. But fasting occasionally (some argue even twice a week) is actually healthy and aids the body in doing what it needs to do, such as maintaining insulin levels and improving cellular repair processes, among others. I’ve experienced this myself after fasting, that the next day, my hunger has abated and I need less food to feel satisfied. I’ve noticed an increase in energy after my body’s had time to “rest” from digestion and then kick into gear again. The short time of discomfort is rewarded with a time of gratification.
"God is never outdone in generosity"
God is never outdone in generosity; any efforts of our own to do well and pursue virtue and holiness will be rewarded in some way. The benefits of fasting extend far beyond just the experience of suffering. At Swole.Catholic, we encourage you to embrace the practice of fasting that we’re commanded to this Lenten season and welcome the many ways in which it can draw us closer to the Lord.
In His strength,