Wars, persecutions, terrorism, famine, greed, abortion, oppression, immorality, human trafficking, indifference, addictions, suicide, divorce: one need only look at the state of our world and at our own lives to know that there is a spiritual war going on, a battle between good and evil.
Many of us feel helpless. Some may even feel hopeless. We might ask, “What could an insignificant person like me do to combat the evil atrocities and immorality of the world today?”
There is something we can do! It’s a solution that might seem simple, but it’s an extremely powerful weapon against evil. That solution is fasting. Prayer and fasting as a team are very powerful weapons in own our spiritual battles as well as the spiritual warfare happening in the world. Jesus, the apostles, the saints, popes and many clerics have fasted and have urged others to do so.
Fasting opens our hearts to conversion and gives weight to our prayer intentions. Fasting strengthens us in resisting temptations and frees us from addictive behavior. Fasting promotes peace in our hearts and peace with one another. Fasting teaches us the difference between wanting and needing and reminds us of the plight of the poor. Fasting invites the Holy Spirit in to heal our hearts, our relationship with God and our relationship with others. The late Fr. Slavko Barbaric said, “Fasting will lead us to a new freedom of heart and mind.”
St. Jean Vianney said, “The devil is not greatly afraid of the discipline and other instruments of penance. That which beats him is the curtailment of one’s food, drink and sleep. There is nothing the devil fears more, consequently, nothing is more pleasing to God.” Satan hates fasting. Why? Because those who practice the regular self-denial of fasting increase in virtue and grow closer to Christ. Those who fast for others are generously denying themselves for others.
Lent is an ideal time to begin the penitential practice of fasting and self-denial. Scripture and Catholic tradition have always placed a great deal of emphasis on fasting and prayer. In the past 50 years, however, fasting has become less important to the modern day Catholic and many Catholics have become lazy in their faith. The self-denial of fasting is exactly the solution to the world’s problems and to our own eternal life.
Lent is a training ground, much like the 40 days fasting in the desert was training ground for Jesus, especially when He was tempted by Satan. During His time in the desert, Jesus was preparing to take up His own cross, to suffer a painful death, to redeem all mankind.
We all want to be prepared for eternal life. The penitential season of Lent with the self-denial of fasting can be our training ground and helps to prepare us for both our future crosses and for our eternal life. Fasting trains us in self-knowledge and is a key tool for mastery over one’s self.
Fasting allows us to help others, even strangers we’ve never met. It’s a generous, selfless act because when we fast and pray for someone in particular, fasting gives weight to our prayers for that person. Pope Francis said, “Fasting makes sense if it really chips away at our security and, as a consequence, benefits someone else, if it helps us cultivate the style of the good Samaritan, who bent down to his brother in need and took care of him.”
In Scripture, (Matthew 6) Jesus tells us how to pray, then immediately tells us to fast: “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.”
Jesus says, “When you fast,” not “if you fast.” Fasting and prayer are a team and are extremely powerful weapons against the evil one. “The disciples asked Jesus, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it (demon) out?’ He replied, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.’” Mark 9:27-29
Fasting is responsible for many miracles throughout history. One miracle happened in Hiroshima, Japan. Eight Jesuit German priests fasted and prayed the rosary daily before the Atomic bomb hit in August 1945. Their parish house was only eight houses away from the center of the atomic bomb blast. Although most people within a one-mile radius of the blast were either killed instantly or died afterwards from radiation poisoning, none of the priests suffered more than a scratch, and none of them ever experienced any after-effects of radiation. Doctors kept track of them for years and none of the priests ever suffered any ill effects. (To read about more fasting miracles, click here.)
Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea recently revealed his secret weapon for spiritual warfare: prayer and fasting. When he first became an archbishop, Cardinal Sarah made a commitment to do a three-day retreat every two months. During these retreats, he completely fasts from both food and water, and takes with him only the basic supplies for Mass, the Bible, and other spiritual reading. He says this has helped him “to recharge and return to the battle.” (source: https://www.catholicherald.co.uk/issues/february-5th-2016/meet-the-cardinal-who-recharges-for-battle-by-fasting-from-food-and-water/) Of course, there’s nothing new about prayer and fasting: Jesus fasted and commanded his disciples to do the same. If an elderly cardinal can fast, then we all can fast.
Another high ranking cleric, Bishop Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix, has recommended fasting in his exhortation, “Into the Breach.” “Turning away from the passions of the flesh, Jesus rejected Satan’s offering of bread in the desert, and in the Sermon on the Mount, twice He instructs us to fast (Matthew 6:16). Notice that the Lord does not say “if you fast” but rather “when you fast.” Fasting is training in self-knowledge, a key weapon for mastery over oneself. If we do not have dominion over our passions, especially those for food and sex, we cannot possess ourselves and put the interests of others in front of our own.”
There are so many great reasons to fast, but prayer and fasting as tools for spiritual warfare is one of the most important. Lent is an ideal time to begin the regular practice of self-denial. For those who cannot fast from food (like the sick, pregnant and elderly), they can choose to fast from television, social networking and other pleasurable activities on fasting days.
Lent is a time of change and sacrifice. Fasting and prayer together is the solution to the spiritual warfare that is going on in the world and in our own lives. Remember that Satan, the father of lies, hates fasting.
Fasting is not an easy practice with our society’s current tendency to overindulge. However, if you can do penitential acts during Lent, if you can fast during Lent, then you can fast all year round!
For more information on how to get started with fasting, check out our website (https://livethefast.org) Always check with your physician before beginning any fasting routine.
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Live the Fast is a Roman Catholic Apostolate that is focused on bringing more awareness to the discipline of fasting by offering educational resources on prayer and fasting, a prayer community that will inspire one to live the fast and providing nutritious fasting breads. (Priests and religious receive fasting breads and resources free of charge.)