In my experience, many people have mixed feelings and thoughts regarding fasting during Lent. I know many who fast simply as a way to lose weight. Lent becomes a diet season to shed 10-15 extra pounds. A time to sacrifice all the “good stuff” and reap the health rewards. On the other hand, I do know some who see no benefits to fasting. They comment, “How does not eating meat or chocolate make me a better Christian? How does giving up rice strengthen my faith? There’s no good in giving up certain foods if I still remain uncharitable.” I knew a hardworking seminarian in college who would eat cheeseburgers on Fridays of Lent to make this point.
Now obviously these are two extreme sides to fasting. We do need a balance. The word Fast comes from a latin word statio, which really means “to watch or guard against”. Scriptures tells us that from the beginning, God commanded some form of fasting, to guard against something. Adam and Eve were free to eat of anything in the Garden of Eden, expect for one thing. They were forbidden to eat from the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. As we know, unfortunately, sin and death entered the world because Adam and Eve broke that fast. They did not keep watch.
Ultimately, fasting serves a spiritual purpose. The key to understanding fasting is ask, “What does my life depend on? What can I live with and what can I not live with? In the end, our lives depend on God and following the life he calls us to live. As Jesus pointed out in the gospel a couple Sundays ago, “Is not life more than food and drink and clothing”. Yes, as human beings we do need those items no doubt. However our life, which one day will pass into eternity, is much more than food, drink, and clothing. Caring for our soul is much more important than caring about the latest fashion designs. When we fast, we sacrifice certain foods, comforts, pleasures, and luxuries, because we can live without them. Our life does not depend on those temporary things. Our life ultimately depends on God.
Below I want to share some points from the U.S. bishops on reasons for fasting. They come from usccb.org.
1 For the Christian, fasting is ultimately about fasting from sin.
2 Fasting reveals our dependence on God and not the resources of this world.
3 Fasting is an ancient way of preparing for the Eucharist—the truest of foods.
4 Fasting is a means of saving resources to give to the poor.