What’s the purpose of fasting?

Posted by Alice L. Camille
Friday 07, March 2014 | Category:   Scripture,Doctrines & Beliefs

Religious Fasting
Survival requires us to eat and drink. When we refrain from these most basic activities, it reminds us that "we do not live by bread alone." Fasting provides you with an opportunity to affirm your faith in God's providential care. It's the most direct act of faith you can make.

Fasting as a spiritual practice falls into the category of sacrifice, which has a long biblical tradition. Ancient peoples gave over the first fruits of their harvests and the choicest animals of each herd in seasonal, ritual sacrifices to God. These were sometimes burned, sometimes consumed by the priests (who were landless and had no other source of income), and sometimes shared with the entire community in celebration of the abundance God provides. As in other acts of religious sacrifice, fasting takes something away: in this case, the prerogative to sustain yourself at will. Surrendering this freedom for a predetermined period of time fortifies humility and reminds you of your vulnerability and weakness.

Fasting stirs you to contemplate justice. Many in this world go without food routinely. How might you respond to their need with charity, in service, or by changing systems and choices?

Fasting motivates you to pray in a deeper, richer way. The spirit of humility and the call to almsgiving that self-denial initiates in you enhances your prayer. It removes the barriers of false pride and possessiveness that can diminish prayer or make it superficial. Fasting makes you ready to get real with God.

Nobody enjoys giving up the freedom to eat, even when it's a short-lived preparation for a medical procedure or a voluntary "cleanse" of the body. Because you don't want to do it, it's regarded as a penitential practice. It enables you to enter into solidarity with the sinner as well as your hungry sisters and brothers. Just as you're tempted to break the fast and eat, others are tempted to actions that are personally or communally destructive. Resistance is a symbolic resistance for the sake of those who are led into temptation.

Scripture
Deuteronomy 8:3; 1 Samuel 7:6; 2 Samuel 1:12; Ezra 8:21; Joel 1:14; Jonah 3:5-10; Luke 4:3-4; Acts 9:9

Books
Fasting by Carol Garibaldi Rogers (Sorin Books)
The Spirituality of Fasting: Rediscovering a Christian Practice
by Charles M Murphy (Ave Maria Press)

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