The word “fasting” brings to mind not eating or giving up food for a particular purpose. Last week, I fasted from food and drink for 12 hours before my annual physical. This fast was done solely for medical reasons. Many fast when dieting, the primary motivation good health or a better looking physique. What about religious or spiritual fasting? All the world’s major religions engage in some sort of fasting, total or partial. In the Catholic tradition our fasting is quite easy: two small meals and one larger one with no eating in between. And once you hit 59 years or older , the fasting laws no longer applies. I think the church needs to look at why the cut off date is so young….this year I turn 59 so I guess I no longer have to fast after this lent.
The first reading from Isaiah gives us a whole new understanding of fasting, at least it’s new for many of us not familiar with the Book of Isaiah written well over two thousand years ago. This prophet, so familiar to Jesus who frequently referred to it in the gospels, speaks of fasting in this manner, “This, then, is the fasting I wish: releasing those bound unjustly; sharing your bread with the hungry; sheltering the oppressed and homeless; clothing the naked when you see them.”
What are we fasting from in these real, human life experiences? In these situations, we “fast” from attachment to clothing and food, only so that our clothes and food can help another human being…we fast from injustice when we work to protect the rights of people who suffer from discrimination because of what they believe or how they live …we fast from our comforting environments by allowing the lonely to have a place. In essence, we fast from self absorption and indifference, making justice and compassion what feeds and nourishes us.
Lenten fasting is meant to release US from what we are attached to…what binds us …what makes us hunger and thirst…what alienates us from community. We become free when we are the ones who give food, drink, clothes, shelter, friendship and Justice.
We fast so that we can become more generous and compassionate.
Peace. Fr. Frank