One of the harder aspects of Lent is fasting. We all love our food in whatever form it comes in — a sweet apple, a well-prepared steak, a crunchy carrot, or a square of chocolate. Eating is so engrained in our day that it’s hard to go without it, even for a few hours. But going without food is what God asks of us during Lent.
How the Saints Fasted
I read this article on Catholic Exchange that talks about the physiology of fasting and maybe how the saints of old may have known something that modern medicine is only now able to explain. Humans are built to fast but it’s something we no longer exercise regularly.
When you fast well, it starts to make sense that the Saints fasted in order to achieve closer communion with God — as we might say, to “supercharge” their prayer. It’s hard to imagine St. Anthony of the Desert felt as many people say they do when they fast — cranky and tired. It seems much more likely that he experienced both mental and physical benefits from fasting.Suzan Sammons in Modern Insights on an Old Lenten Practice
We already know that throughout history people consumed fewer calories than we do today. Their bodies were trained for fasting. That may account for many of the fasting claims in the bible. The story of John the Baptist surviving off of locusts and honey or Jesus fasting for 40 days in the desert may not be that far-fetched. In the modern era, with a restaurant on every block, a fully stocked pantry, and a GrubHub app on our phones, we haven’t trained our bodies for fasting. But through much of human history, going through periods of fasting was a normal occurrence.
Does that mean that the saints’ fasts didn’t really count because they were used to it? On the contrary, fasting supercharged their prayers. Once the body moves from the digestive state to a fasting state, food is no longer in the equation. The body then starts to go into a conservative state which is conducive to meditation and deeper prayer. That’s what you want during Lent, right?
Rediscovering God through Fasting
Lent is a perfect time to retrain our bodies to fast. Now, this isn’t medical advice so please don’t go starving yourself or do anything dangerous. Just know that if you’re a healthy adult your body is capable of going without food longer than you may think. Like fighting the temptation to sin, you have to fight that urge to eat when you feel just the least bit hungry. And while eating because you’re hungry isn’t sinful, the whole idea of fasting is that you are showing God how much you love Him by forsaking a mild earthly pleasure and put yourself in a meditative state.
How does fasting bring us closer to God? Face it, many of us can become slaves to food. Think about how little control you feel when you are hungry. All you can think about is food. And when you’re in that state, food can become a sort of false idol consuming all your thoughts. But hunger can also become a reminder to ask God for help. If God can help you fight hunger pains, think of all the other dimensions of your life He can help you with. You just have to remember to take the time to acknowledge your dependence on God and earnestly ask for His help. And there lies much of the spiritual value of fasting.
When you feel tempted to dive into the bag of cookies or a box of crackers, try reaching for your Rosary instead. Ask God for help in keeping a good Lenten fast. Take the time to ask God for help with other challenges in your life. Thank Him for the fact that you do have food to eat when you’re done fasting. Thank Him that fasting is a choice; a choice many people around the world do not have. Meditate on Jesus in the desert. It was through fasting, not feasting, that Jesus was able to resist Satan’s temptations.
Want to learn more about the science of fasting? Here’s an interesting documentary on it: Fasting (2017) – IMDb