(Pastor, Sacred Heart, Rock Island; and St Mary's, Rock Island)
Fasting is one of the powerful tools Jesus gives us to have the abundant life. It’s a helpful means to experience the presence of Jesus. It’s a way to see him release more blessings. It’s a way to better know what we can and cannot do in this world. Since there are a lot of misunderstandings about fasting, I was hoping to offer a few helpful points to consider if you’re thinking about fasting.
Fasting is prayer. What we are saying to Jesus is, “I am small and significant; you are big and generous. I need you, Lord Jesus.” Like all friendships, prayer is sometimes easy and sometimes hard. Prayer is always suppose to renew us in some way. If not, we are doing something wrong. Expect to be frequently reminded about what you’re doing and then turn your heart with affection to bless the Lord.
Fasting is always relational. We don’t fast because it sounds good on holy paper. We do it because it’s a response to an invitation of Jesus. Often the invitation is a growing joy and gratitude that wells up in our hearts. That means, then: No invitation, no fasting. And if the fasting becomes a miserable experience, stop. Thank him for the good parts you experienced.
Jesus wants the heart, not your Weight Watchers points. The amount of fasting is relative to each person. So pray and ask Jesus to give you a sense of how long and how much to fast. I started out with one meal. It was a grace-filled experience. Then I fasted 3 days. Another grace-filled experience. Like Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the Church reminds us that we shouldn’t fast if it causes any health issues.
We can focus on three different goals when we fast: Prayer requests, penance, and self-mortification.
Specific Prayer Requests: I recommend writing 20-30 specific intentions down for Jesus to answer during a fast. Ask your friends and family members for what they concretely need. Tell them to get back to you if they see anything answered, even partially, during the fasting or afterward.
Penance: Penance is simply an act of affection to God for forgiving our sins. Its saying, “Jesus, thank you so much for your goodness. I love you. I want to show you how grateful and sorry I am.” It’s not, “I want to feel miserable because I’m a miserable person.” It’s an expression of gratitude for his mercy and a small share in his justice.
Self-Mortification: It’s a big word. It just means we are attempting to get more mentally and morally tough. Often limitations exist only in our heads. When I led college students on a three day fast on just liquids (Chocolate milk their drink of choice!), they were all amazed they didn’t fall down dead. They all felt close to Jesus during the 3 days. We met every night to talk about our joyful experiences. If you can be tough in one area of life, you can be tough in another.
This Holy Week I am doing a longer fast from Tuesday evening until Saturday morning. Holy Thursday is a special celebration for priests, our anniversary, so I will be breaking the fast for that evening. I want to invite you to join me so we can do something a little more together. I will be just drinking water, coffee, and maybe some broth during the fast but your fast doesn’t have to look this way. It’s closeness with Jesus that we are after. You can follow the guidelines of Good Friday for the days or any other variation that is inspired in you.
Whether you join me for the fast or not, send me your prayer request. Nothing general and vague like: “Father, pray for blessings in my family.” Instead, something more like: “Father, I want to see my sisters become better friends.” If you send me your intentions, I will send you mine.
Have a grace-filled Holy Week. Smile. God is good!
Fr Anthony is a righteous preacher - check out his homilies!