The Best Kind of Fasting
Fr. Miguel Marie Soeherman, MFVA
01/15/2007 — 2nd Monday, Ordinary Time
(7am Mass — PCPA — Hanceville, AL)
The question of fasting was at issue here. The people were very observant. They noticed how Our Lord’s disciples were not fasting while the Pharisees or John the Baptist’s disciples were. “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?” Jesus asked. “As long as they have the Bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.”
Our Lord’s response tells us about the connection between the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the OT, Yahweh was depicted as a groom wedded to Israel. Like in Isaiah (54:5), “Your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is His name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth — He is called.” Or like in Hosea (2:20), “I will espouse you in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord.” In the OT, the Bridegroom has not yet arrived. In the NT, the Bridegroom is present. He is in the person of Christ Jesus.
So the Jewish fasts must be seen as a way of preparation. It was a way of preparing the people for the coming of the Messiah.
Often times, fasting is done for the sake of fasting and not done as a way of preparation or as a means to deny ourselves or to decrease our selfish will so that the will of Christ may grow within.
Liturgically, we observe the 1-Hour-Eucharistic fast before receiving Holy Communion. The Eucharistic fast is for the purpose of preparing ourselves for the coming of the Lord in Holy Communion. Literally, it is for the coming of the Messiah.
Fasting may take various forms. The most popular one is fasting on bread and water. But I must caution you about this! Not everyone can fast on bread and water! Or not everyone ought to fast on bread and water! Some should not fast on bread and water because physically they can’t do it! Physically, they may endanger their own health or even their own life! Some should not fast on bread and water because spiritually they ought not to! Because they might just increase their spiritual pride. They might be thinking: I can do this! This is so easy to do! I don’t know what the problem is for others who cannot fast on bread and water! So, if any considers to fast on bread and water, one ought to consult first their spiritual director or their confessor or their superior.
Fasting is not limited to bread and water. Like I said there are various ways to fast. I know a man who fasts every Wednesday and Friday from using TV or Internet! And he’s been faithful to his form of fasting; thanks be to God’s grace, of course, which enables him to do this.
Another form of fasting is a very important! Fasting from sins! This type of fasting is called by some “internal penance” or “internal repentance.”
Sometimes as a form of fasting, people carry out external penance by offering additional prayers. Perhaps, they pray an extra rosary or pray the Stations of the Cross.
Pope John XXIII in his encyclical On the Need for the Practice of Penance (Interior and Exterior): External penance includes particularly the acceptance from God in a spirit of resignation and trust. That is the spirit of resignation and trust in regards to our life’s sorrows and hardships and everything that involves inconvenience and annoyance in carrying out the obligations of our daily life and work.
This is the best kind — the kind that’s sent from God not of our own making or our own invention.
When we accept various hardships as coming from God, it would be light and easy and not burdensome! But when we resist all the time, it becomes very heavy and burdensome! As Fr. Andrew said to us last week during our retreat: The cross makes one either bitter or better! We’d become either a bitter person or a better person! When we resist, we experience the bitter cup! But when we resign, we become better persons — more like Christ or more conformed to Him!
I like what St. John of the Cross said about mortification (cf. The Complete Works of St. John of the Cross): We are like the stone which must be chiseled and fashioned before being used in the building. The people God surrounds us with are like craftsmen placed there by Him to mortify us by working and chiseling at us.
He said: Some will chisel with words — telling us what we would rather not hear.
Others chisel us by deed — doing against us what we would rather not endure.
Others by their temperament — being who they are... being in their person and in their actions a bother and annoyance to us.
Like some people talk so fast and some people talk so slow. Some speak so loud and some speak so soft you can barely hear them. Some of these things may annoy us very much.
St. John of the Cross goes on by saying: And others by their thoughts — neither esteeming nor feeling love for us.
He said: In these situations, we ought to suffer these mortifications and annoyances with inner patience.
I believe that this is the best kind — the kind which the Lord send us. Whatever He sends us or whatever He allows us to experience may be very light. Or it may be very difficult or very painful. But the Lord knows our strength. He knows our capabilities. He knows our limitations. And He will not let us deal with more than we can handle.
I started reading Fr. Walter Ciszek’s book He Leadeth Me. He’s a Jesuit priest who spent 23 years in Soviet prisons and in the labor camps of Siberia. He said (p. 182):
What is required for growth is an attitude of acceptance and openness to the will of God, rather than some planned approach or calculated method. Even ascetical practices such as penances, fasting, or mortifications can be hindrances rather than helps if they are self-imposed. Striving instead to eliminate all self-will, to accept God’s will revealed in the circumstances of daily life, is the surest way to achieve growth in conformity to the will of God. It will provide more than enough virtue to be practiced, suffering to be sustained, pain to be borne; more important still, it will make us fit instruments to achieve his designs, not only for our own salvation but for others as well.
Fasting or penance should never be done for the sake of fasting itself or for the sake of penance itself! But they ought to be done with the intention of deeper union of will with the Lord! They ought to be done with the intention to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord!
May the Lord guide us and may Our Lady lead us to accept generously whatever God sends us to purify us!