What’s Fasting? To the Catholic, fasting is much more than a diet. It is a powerful spiritual weapon that can help us overcome our bodily desires. Read more about ways to fast and how this practice can bring you the freedom you long for.
What’s Fasting? In modern culture fasting is a tool most often used for weight loss. Weight loss programs such as Intermittent Fasting restrict calories at certain times in order to reduce a person’s overall daily caloric intake. Eating less calories than your body burns leads to weight loss.
In the Catholic Tradition, fasting is used for much more than just weight loss. Fasting is a powerful spiritual weapon that can help us overcome our passions – our intense bodily desires. These desires are not inherently wrong, but because of our fallen nature they can become disordered and dominate us. Unchecked, our passions lead to sins such as gluttony, addiction, sexual sin, and hatred. Eventually their control over our lives will lead us to hell. But don’t worry; there is hope!
Jesus Christ came to save us from our sin. He reaches out to us and offers to help us control our passions. Help for controlling our passions can be found both in the Bible and in the traditions of the Catholic Church. Let’s see what the scripture and the Church teach us about fasting to control our bodily desires.
What’s Fasting? Answers from Scripture
In Matthew 4:1-11 Jesus set the example for us by fasting for forty days and forty nights. He wasn’t just fasting for the fun of it, but to show us how to fight the Devil and all his temptations. God became man to show man how to be man. We are told in verse 1 that Jesus was led into the desert to be tempted. His response to this was to begin fasting.
The Old Testament also holds numerous accounts of fasting. One of these is Genesis 2:16-17 when the Lord tells Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of knowledge. Another is found in the book of Jonah 3:4-10 when the people of Nineveh, after hearing the call to repent, put on sackcloth and began fasting. The Lord saw their repentance and did not destroy the city.
These examples from scripture show us that fasting is a powerful tool to resist the temptations of the Devil and to repent from sin. Next we are going to look at Fasting in the traditions of the Catholic Church.
What’s Fasting? Answers from the Catholic Church
Catholics traditionally observe two types of fasting. The first is a penitential fast. We fast during the seasons of penance (Advent and Lent) and on Fridays. Before the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s this fasting was always fasting from food, and specifically meat on Fridays. Today we are often told that we can observe these fasts through fasting from sin instead from food (except on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday).
The second type of fasting is the Eucharistic Fast. The purpose of this fast is to give the Eucharist – the true body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus – the respect it is due. Traditionally Catholics would not eat anything in the morning before receiving the Eucharist. Today this has been shortened to not eating just one hour before Mass.
Both these types of fasting in Catholicism point us away from the trials here on earth and lead our hearts and minds to heaven. Fasting gives us power over our bodily desires and helps us take back the freedom of our will.
How to Fast
Now that we’ve answered the question “what’s fasting”, we’re going to look at different ways to fast. The short answer is just eat less. The following are some ideas to make this a little easier:
- Skip a meal
- Don’t eat between meals
- Skip alcohol when eating out
- Do a bread and water fast for one day
- Skip extra salt or seasoning on your food
- Drink only water for the day (no soda, coffee, tea, etc.)
- Only eat dessert or other sweets on a certain day on the week
- Follow the traditional Catholic fast of having one full meal and two snacks
How fasting can lead to freedom
The idea that restricting ourselves in one area can lead to freedom seems incongruous. In the twenty-first century the definition of freedom seems to be “doing what I want to do when I want to do it”. This definition is unfortunately short sighted, ego-centric, and eroding our sense of community.
Freedom is not just getting to do what we want, but being able to choose what is best for us and those around us. 1 Corinthians 6:12 explains this concept perfectly: ” “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.”
By choosing to fast we are exerting our will over our desires. When we make choices out of self control rather than our feelings or desires we are giving ourselves the freedom to live only for God. Self-control is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and he gives it to those who believe to help them grow closer to the Lord.
How is Fasting Minimalist?
On the surface there seems to be no connection between fasting and minimalism. A closer look at these two concepts shows that both have similar themes. Both fasting and minimalism are an exercise in self-control. Exercising this control over our passions through fasting can help us be better minimalists. Growth in one are of life helps all areas. Three of the areas fasting and minimalism overlap are detachment, sustainability, and anti-consumption.
Fasting helps us become detached from the comfort of food and always having a full belly. It challenges the idea that we need three square meals per day and should never feel hunger. Minimalism helps us detach ourselves from the comfort of things around us. It removes the distractions that our things offer. Being detached from distraction forces us to master our emotions through use of our will alone.
Minimalism is sustainable because it leads on to owning fewer things, and therefore fewer goods being manufactured, shipped, and eventually being left in landfills.
Fasting is sustainable because it means consuming less food. It is well-documented that overeating can lead to individual health problems. A research study in Frontiers of Nutrition explores the impact of overeating on the environment. Lead researcher Professor Mauro Serafini from Italy’s University of Teramo claims that overeating leads to an extra 140 billion tons of food consumption each year. Through calculations he estimates that the cost of this food is equivalent to 240 billion tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere.
Both fasting and minimalism have a shared by-product end of anti-consumerism. By fasting we consume less food, and through minimalism we consume fewer durable goods. Both of these ends are desirable in a world drowning in single-use plastic.
How Will You Choose freedom today?
Now that we’ve answered the question “what’s fasting” and looked at both biblical and traditional sources for answers I would love to hear about your journey! What does fasting look like in your spiritual life? How are you going to choose self-control and freedom today? Let me know below in the comments!