Fasting, an expression of love

You are to fast every day, except Sundays, from the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross until Easter Day, unless bodily sickness or feebleness, or some other good reason, demand a dispensation from the fast; for necessity overrides every law.

Rule of St. Albert, No. 16


“Our teacher said that we are not supposed to eat meat, Brother,” Jessly, a grade five student, once told me when I told him to eat the food prepared by his grandmother.

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Because we just had our forehead marked with ashes,” he innocently said, although deep inside I knew that he just does not want to eat his food.

Fasting is one of the most overused religious practices and many people make it as an excuse for vanity, or worse, when they want something from God. Prayer and fasting, they say, is the surest way for God to listen to our prayer.

Fasting is more than that. It is not a magic formula to get God to answer.

Fasting is an expression of love for our Lord, and as the prophet Isaiah would tell us, what the Lord desires is for us to fast not simply by missing on food but by bringing His justice to the people, by showing everyone His mercy and compassion, by becoming ourselves agents of God’s mercy and compassion.

How?

Isaiah said: “(By) sharing your bread with the hungry and to bring the oppressed and homeless into your own home, in clothing those who are naked without neglecting your own people….”

God does not need us to do sacrifices, but the sacrifice that we do through fasting is but an expression of love, of being one with the passion and the sufferings of Christ. We want to experience the cross in the hope of understanding the love of God.

Fasting should bring us to this understanding and create a conversion in us wherein it becomes much easier for us to be a true neighbor.

How do I express my sacrifice for the Lord?

Isaiah 58:6-7
“Is not this rather the fast which I desire: break unjust fetters, untie the thongs of the yoke, set free the oppressed and break every yoke? Does it not consist perhaps in sharing your bread with the hungry and to bring the oppressed and homeless into your own home, in clothing those who are naked without neglecting your own people?”

Prayer
Dearest Lord, grant me a heart of sacrifice, willing to give myself for the sake of the other. Let me be an instrument of your love, Lord. Amen.

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A sacrifice for the poor

You are to fast every day, except Sundays, from the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross until Easter Day, unless bodily sickness or feebleness, or some other good reason, demand a dispensation from the fast; for necessity overrides every law.

Rule of St. Albert, No. 16


Why do we fast?

There are countless reasons why we fast and most of the time it has something to do with wanting to get something from God – a sense of clarity, a better relationship, a high paying job, or the latest gadget in the market.

Some reasons may not be for us but for others – peace in the world, justice for the abused, clarity of mind for our leaders, food for the hungry, a sense of conscience and Christian morality for our judges. Still we expect God to give something in return for this little sacrifice that we’re making.

The Bible is also loaded with examples of fasting and there are many instances given where the person who fasted wanted something in return from God.

King Jehoshaphat asked all the people of Judah to fast in order to seek God’s protection (2 Chronicles 20:3-4), and so did Queen Esther before entering the court of King Xerxes uninvited, an act punishable by death (Esther 4:16).

More than asking for God’s favor, fasting is also a way of humbling oneself before God, to grieve, and to offer oneself to God. In the latter, fasting would come as a form of cleansing one’s body, making it a proper and fitting offering to God.

For some, fasting is a concrete manifestation of charity where one sacrifices the comforts accorded to him – including good food – just so he could provide comfort to others. Such was Mother Candelaria of St. Joseph, OCarm of Venezuela, foundress of the Sisters of the Poor of Altagracia de Orituco, now known as the Venezuelan Carmelite Sisters or Carmelite Sisters of Mother Candelaria, who looked after poor people who are sick.

Her whole life was decorated in poverty, sacrificing her meals so that the poor who are sick could eat and eating only what was left; and her clothing were hand-me-downs, mended several times. And even if they had the money for new clothes, she would have no qualms to give the money up to favor the poor.

Such was the case when after so much begging Mother Candelaria was able to come up with the money needed for the new habits of her sisters, but then the hospital that they were running was in dire need of funds in order to provide for the poor patients. The poor came first.

To what extent am I willing to sacrifice for the poor?

Matthew 6:16-18
And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Prayer
Lord, please grant me a charitable heart that’s willing to give my all for the benefit of those in need. Give me the strength to fast, to deny myself, so that you will dominate and will be praised in my life.