…and maybe that’s the point.
The goals of fasting can be seen various ways. It’s practice denying ourselves something good that we desire, which can strengthen us to better deny our evil desires. It’s a sign of repentance and an effective way to call upon God, as we find communities fasting in the Old Testament and receiving God’s mercy. Physical and mental benefits of fasting, depending on what is given up and how much your eating is restricted, also exist. Yet the most common Lenten fasts, giving up some kind of treat or comfort, are often considered childish or superficial. I can’t count the number of homilies, articles, and conversations I’ve encountered telling me, as if for the first time, that giving up a treat isn’t the “be all and end all” of Lent.
It’s not the be all and end all. But it is one of the three ways we’re instructed to repent – prayer, fasting, and alms-giving – and today, it’s the one I’m pondering. The “Daily Bread” Catholic podcast and the homily I heard this weekend got the idea churning in my mind. Any priest who pulls out St. Augustine quotes is going to get me thinking!
You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.
Rich or poor, ancient or modern, we all eat. Every person understands the feeling of craving, whether the deep hunger of an empty belly or the sudden out-of-the-blue urge for (insert comfort food here). Feeding that craving gives us all pleasure and reward. Satisfaction. Sometimes, even blissful relief. If you just had exactly what you wanted, and it was as good as you’d hoped, you’re awash in warm fuzzies. I’m convinced that is what we’re called to fast from. Giving up that visceral satisfaction is what God wants from us in Lent, and at appropriate times throughout life.
That satiation, that sensation that we’ve met our needs, that satisfaction is in some way a lie. We have cravings that can be met to teach us that every craving must have some way to be fulfilled. But our deepest yearnings can’t be fully met in this world. The Church (and through her, the Lord) gives us times and seasons for each side of this lesson. The Christmas season, the Easter season, weddings, and the like show us what satisfaction is. We rejoice, we fill our bellies and fulfill our wishes to prefigure Heaven and to recognize the Kingdom of God breaking forth already in this world. But our culture of rushing from celebration to celebration, of sharing treats and triumphs and hiding longing and loss, is so lopsided a truth that it becomes an outright lie.
There is no snack, no essential oil, no impulse buy, no Netflix original series, no spouse, no fitness routine, no career change, nothing big or small in this life that will fully satisfy us. Lent is one of the times we’re called to remember that. The gnawing in my stomach on Ash Wednesday before dinner can tune me in to that spiritual emptiness I’ve gotten very good at ignoring. Destabilizing our routines of self-comforting and self-rewarding gives us space to analyze whether we’re drawing our comfort from God and storing up a reward in Heaven. Realizing our addictions to “creature comforts” can increase our understanding and care for those who don’t have what we have. So fasting, done well, leads us to desire prayer and alms-giving and can give those two obligations a clearer focus.
I’m grateful that Juli sparked the fasting conversation here, and I hope I’ve contributed something of value to it. As the Eastern Christians call it, have a “great fast”!