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February 4, 2023
fast

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I think some of us may not be aware of why anyone would fast. Sometimes we can see it as a dietary tactic, but in my experience it can be the case that we really do not understand why it is we fast, and why doing penance of any kind is valuable in our spiritual life.

Readings for Today

fast
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Why we fast

“Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”

I think some of us may not be aware of why anyone would fast. Sometimes we can see it as a dietary tactic, but in my experience it can be the case that we really do not understand why it is we fast, and why doing penance of any kind is valuable in our spiritual life. True fasting and prayer is always directed towards the Lord and our conversion.

But the Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses the importance of interior penance in order to grow in the spiritual life. Paragraph 1430 says this, “Jesus’ call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, “sackcloth and ashes,” fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance.”

This echoes the discussion of fasting throughout the bible. We begin the season of Lent with the prophet Joel asking for interior conversion over external actions alone. “Rend your hearts, not your garments.” In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus warns us not to perform acts for people to see. It is easy to see why. The notice others give us could be a source of pride.

The same is true for fasting. The goal is the interior conversion of the heart, which is why the Father who is hidden is the one who sees the attempt to change hearts. We should not look gloomy we should not do anything that would draw attention to ourselves for the goal is not the notice of others but the transformed heart.

But prayer and fasting must go together. Paul and Barnabas do this in appointing pastors. (Acts 14:23) The same actions are being done when the receive the message that Paul and Barnabas should be set aside for a mission. (Acts 13:2-4) Anna in Luke’s gospel combines the actions. (Luke 2:37)

Fridays are typically penitential days since that is the day Jesus died for our sins. But in any event, the penance we do is not for external show, but for the conversion of the heart.

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