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Unfashionable fasting

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Unfashionable fasting

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. (Mt 6:16)

If these hypocrites were drawing attention to their fasting, surely that means that fasting must have been fashionable to some extent?  These days, it’s not so much an act of humility to fast inconspicuously, but humiliating if we have to bear witness to our fasting.

Fasting is not just ‘deeply unfashionable’ in contemporary society; it simply doesn’t exist.  Losing weight, oh yes – we’re a nation obsessed – but fasting isn’t about losing weight. Fasting is one of those things that you just need to get on and do in order to learn its multifaceted goodness, but perhaps we need some convincing to adopt this charism as a positive choice.

We see the link between fasting and alms-giving when we fast and give what we have saved to the poor.  In the quotation that follows, however, Dom Guillerand* links the two in a different way:

Fasting is an alms given directly to God.  It is for his sake that we fast.  It is in order that we may become more strongly attached to Him that we deprive ourselves of that food which comes from Him, and of which we can partake only for His sake.

So far, so good, yes?  I got stuck on this next bit, though:

To offer Him the sacrifice of what is not absolutely indispensable for our physical well being is thus to raise ourselves from our level to His.

Now Guillerand was a Carthusian and no stranger to mystical union with God.  However, to me, where I am, ‘raise ourselves from our level to His’ sounds more than a little tricky.  I read it and thought, ‘well good for you, Father!  God may well raise me up in prayer if he so desires, but that’s up to Him.  I just try to make sure there’s no obstacle between us that might dampen my love of Him or render me out of earshot of His still, small voice’.

The phrase stayed with me, though.  Guillerand talks sense – such perfect sense – and the difference in our perceptions bothered me… until I realised that our two views are not incompatible and it’s exactly there (‘just making sure there’s no obstacle between us that might dampen my love of Him…’) that fasting comes in.  An ‘over-fond attachment’ to food might become an obstacle between us and God. Are you familiar with the concept of ‘comfort eating’?  You feel sad, fed up, let down, whatever, and so eat something to make you feel better.  Well, with that in mind, look at this intercession from last Thursday’s Morning Prayer  –

May we come to Christ when we are burdened, for he is the spring of living water who refreshes all who thirst.

We can easily fall into a habit of coming to the biscuit tin (or whatever) when we are burdened, although in the cold light of day, we know that biscuits don’t work.  It strikes me that a proper understanding and practice of fasting frees us up to look to the Lord for our comfort.  God loves us and draws us all to Himself, if only we let Him, so by clearing obstacles out of the way through fasting we enable God to raise us ‘from our level to His.’   I hope this helps with your Lenten fasting.

Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.   Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Mt 11:28-30)

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*Dom Augustin Guillerand, The Prayer of the Presence of God chapter 11

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