Because some things should remain private, I have hesitated writing about my devotional fast. However, I believe we learn from one another. Sharing helps us engage in conversations that lead to greater understanding.
I started fasting twice a week close to four years ago. I began not for the reasons one might think, but as a health measure. After watching the BBC documentary “Eat, Fast & Live Longer” by Dr. Michael Mosley, a physician and journalist, I wanted to try intermittent fasting. According to research, fasting provides time for the body to initiate healing.
“It’s not just about how we eat, but when and how we eat it,” said Mosley. In his documentary, he looked at the scientific theory that calorie restriction influences longevity in humans.
My mother died young. She was 50 years old. Since her death, I have been on hyper alert to ways of living healthier. Naturally, I wanted to reap the benefits of intermittent fasting. We take extreme measuring fighting an illness; why not take extreme measures at prevention?
Over time, my practice has evolved into a devotional fast, and I see it now as a gift.
I felt guilty that my fasting did not come prompted for spiritual reasons as part of my ongoing prayer life. Father Alex Flores, pastor at San Juan Diego Parish in McAllen, put me at ease one day when he explained, “Grace builds upon nature.” He said God is gentle and uses our natural inclinations to draw us toward him. So while I started this discipline for health reasons, God helped me understand there are greater reasons to fast.
Fasting is one of the three pillars of the Lenten season. Which draws me to the question I ask myself frequently, “Why fast?” Each week I find more and more reasons to continue my twice-weekly fast.
For thousands of years people have fasted – some for spiritual reasons, some for health. During Lent, we focus on Jesus Christ’s fast in the desert. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his message for Lent 2009 said, “The Sacred Scriptures and the entire Christian tradition teach that fasting is a great help to avoid sin and all that leads to it. For this reason, the history of salvation is replete with occasions that invite fasting.”
He adds, “Fasting represents an important ascetical practice, a spiritual arm to do battle against every possible disordered attachment to ourselves. Freely chosen detachment from the pleasure of food and other material goods helps the disciple of Christ to control the appetites of nature, weakened by original sin, whose negative effects impact the entire human person.”
I remain in awe of how God works in our lives and by how our Blessed Mother calls us closer to her son. Early in my fasting journey, my husband and I made plans to visit Croatia. While our original plans did not include Medjugorje in Bosnia, the site where apparitions of the Blessed Mother began in 1981, the proximity prompted us to include a side journey.
It truly felt like our Blessed Mother was guiding us toward Medjugorje. She was also helping me gain a better understanding of the discipline of regularly abstaining from food. I did not realize at the time Our Lady of Medjugorje is calling for fasting twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays. I still can’t seem to trade my Tuesday fast for Wednesday, but at some point I may be ready.
To date, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has not issued a doctrinal judgment on the apparitions. However, on Feb. 11 Catholic News Agency reported Pope Francis “appointed Archbishop Henryk Hoser of Warszawa-Praga as a delegate of the Holy See to look into the pastoral situation at Medjugore, the site of alleged Marian apparitions in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
This does not diminish the call for fasting. While I sometimes fail, the weekly practice of abstaining from meals keeps me aware of the graces that flow from this devotion.
For one, fasting compliments prayer on multiple levels. It is a great gift to offer up a fast when someone has asked for a specific prayer intention. I am becoming more aware as well that fasting is part of my ongoing surrender to God. Learning to rely on him for strength, each fast brings some insight to a moment before me or to a lesson on my spiritual journey.
Second, fasting keeps me in balance by helping me focus on what is important. I’ve learned to better appreciate the blessings before me. I have also become more aware of the needs of others.
Often fasting serves as a reset button for times when I overindulge and have committed gluttony or when I veer off course from healthy eating. Not only does fasting keep me in check, it makes me more mindful of my meals on the days I don’t fast. I have a greater appreciation for the foods I consume.
Third, fasting offers health benefits for body and mind. Scientists continue to study this and find more and more proof of the merits of periodically abstaining from meals.
Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician known as the Father of Modern Medicine, advocated for fasting. He noted, “The man carries within him a doctor; you just have to help him do his work. If the body is not cleared, then the more you feed it, the more it will be harmed. When a patient is fed too richly, the disease is fed as well. Remember – any excess is against nature.”
What a blessing. Fasting does not need to be reserved for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We can incorporate the practice year-round. I will likely continue to stumble at times, but I trust God will set me back on the path, however many times it takes.
(Originally published in March 2017 edition of The Valley Catholic newspaper)