About this time every Lent, it becomes clear that our first fervor of Ash Wednesday has dimmed, if not worn off completely. The resolutions have wavered, and it is helpful to take a second look, perhaps even refocus and look for a recharge.
The issue of fasting might be a good place to start. The Catholic practice, modified over the years, lays claim on the lives of everyone in good health from the age of 14 (an age of presumed maturity in the ancient world!) through 59. We are asked to refrain from snacks between meals and to make sure that the two minor meals do not exceed the main one.
The basic purpose of any fast is to say “no” to ourselves for the sake of personal discipline. The “why” is the key to ultimate success. But are there many things from which we might fast, and many reasons for doing so. While moderating our food, we might also pay attention to other less than healthy activities.
Shall we fast this year from self-centeredness? Anyone merely fasting to lose weight and become slimmer by Easter may be successful and may even feel a great deal of personal satisfaction and accomplishment, but that’s dieting, not fasting. It’s for oneself and not necessarily spiritual in purpose. We fast to grow in awareness of our basic physicality and interdependence as human beings. We fast to experience the healthy rhythm of feasting and famine.
Shall we fast this year from isolation from the needy of our world? As Christians we fast to reestablish discipline in our lives and appetites. We fast to experience solidarity with the poor and impoverished of our world, and with those who struggle for a crust of bread or a bit of rice each day. Many beg and scavenge through garbage heaps simply to stay alive.
Shall we fast this year from things which keep us too preoccupied and distracted from God and neighbor? Perhaps it may be worthy and wholesome to fast from the sugars and desserts of our customary patterns, or from smoking or junk food. But it may be better to fast from excessive preoccupation with TV or video games in order to spend more time with family and friends, or from anything which gets in the way of service to neighbors. Postponing one’s first glimpse at the morning news in order to spend some time in prayer could give us a much better perspective on that news when we do hear/see it.
The fundamental commands given us as disciples/apprentices of Jesus the Christ are love of God and love of neighbor. Perhaps we really need to fast from whatever may prevent us from love of God, namely anything which becomes a false primary value in our hearts.
Many things impede our love of neighbor: the presumption of bad motives in the people for whom we work, the love of gossip which demeans the lives or dignity of coworkers, or the inability to offer praise for work well done or deserved accomplishments. We could fast from those attitudes of the heart.
Shall we fast this year from wasting time in day dreams or from rushing mindlessly from one thing to another because we do not properly value time? If we are thinking about everything except what is at hand, we do not value God’s gifts. If we are so busy that we are never really mindful of what we do, we are not attentive to the grace of the moment. Fasting from wasting time or undervaluing it could be healthy in our overly hectic multitasking modern world.
Shall we fast this year from whatever might feed our “demons”? Every one of us has a personal demon. I use the word in the ancient Greek sense of daimon, namely an inner urge over which we must struggle to exercise control. The urge may be for the good, but requires guidance and focus to be effective. Those who need to be needed, who need to be accepted and praised, who speak the truth to make ourselves look better in the eyes of others, who pray in public to be seen or to escape less enjoyable duties elsewhere … all those could be demons which might be essentially good, but which need better motivation and purpose.
The personal “demon” may also be for evil, namely born out of personal pride, sensuality, jealousy or misguided sexuality. Those are inclinations which could be dangerous and destructive. Perhaps we should “fast” and abstain from whatever situations nourish the negative demons in our lives. We neither love God nor neighbor if we are preoccupied with envy for the lifestyle of those around us, obsessed with others as sexual objects or desperate for recognition and acclaim.
There is so much from which to fast this year … and candy or even a cocktail before dinner is very far from the Lenten heart of it all.