Why We Fast

We fast to enable a good atmosphere of prayer. Of course, we are talking about spiritual fasting. Some people fast for physical health reasons. Whatever be the reason, fasting as giving up a certain satisfaction for a higher good has great benefits. It is almost impossible to have a healthy spiritual life without fasting.

Jesus’ teaching on fasting is not optional: “When you fast…” not “if you fast…”(cf. Matt 6:16ff).

Fasting is a powerful spiritual practice that predates Jesus’ earthly existence. We read stories of Moses and Elijah fasting for 40 days for their respective missions; John the Baptist barely eating anything except locust and wild honey. Our Lord began His ministry with 40 days of fasting, aligning Himself to this great spiritual practice and perfecting the practice of fasting. Besides creating a good spiritual disposition for prayer, fasting offers:

  • A means of sacrifice—a consistent growth in the spiritual life requires making constant sacrifices no matter how little. Our sacrifices do not constitute a means of redemption in themselves but ways of staying connected to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
  • Helps us pray—Fasting is hungering for God. As we continue to search for Him, we put aside encumbrances and distractions. Fasting is a way to remind ourselves that we are in prayer, on an important mission, and seeking a good far beyond and better than material goods.
  • Offers us training for detachment—One of the most beautiful gifts to have in our journey with the Lord God and to God, is having access to material blessings and being able to use them for their sake (means to a higher-end, not as an end in themselves). Fasting helps (at least temporarily) detach from worldly goods.

Why and When Fasting is Necessary

Why then did Jesus and His disciples skip fasting? Well, to put this in context, consider this: Do the Saints and Angels fast in Heaven? When we get to Heaven, would we continue to fast? We may not even have prayer (of petition especially). But we definitely have prayer of Praise!

We know Jesus fasted at the right time. As with every situation, Jesus turned this encounter with his interrogators into a teaching moment. What did He teach? He taught what He has always taught—that He is the goal of all spiritual exercises—fasting, prayer, almsgiving, corporal and spiritual works of mercy, preaching, teaching, etc. We do these things to stay connected to Christ. Hence, being that He was with the disciples, they do not need to fast (they could if they wish to) as long as He remains with them. Recall that in Luke’s passion narrative, Jesus distinguished between how things were with His disciples while He was present versus when He will be gone. “When I sent you out with no purse or bag or sandals, did you lack anything? They said, ‘Nothing.’ He said to them, ‘But now, let him who has a purse take it, and likewise a bag” (Luke 22:35-36). Brethren, while we may not have the same type of need to fast at all times, we do continuously need to pray and praise our resurrected Messiah at all times.

[Readings: Amos 9:11-15; Mathew 9:14-17]

Fr. Christian Amah

Fr. Christian Amah is a priest of the Catholic Archdiocese of New York. You can reach him at [email protected]

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