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Fr. Steven Huber, CSB – The Importance of Lenten Fasting – Windsor, ON

March 7, 2024

What does it mean to fast?

Each year, the church begins the Lenten season with the celebration of Ash Wednesday. We sign ourselves with ashes as a reminder that we were made from the dust of the earth, and that we will return to the dust of the earth after our lives are over. We also see this signing with ashes as a symbol of our call to repentance, and our need to use this time to return to the Lord with our whole heart, as the prophet Joel instructs us in the first reading for the Mass of Ash Wednesday.

The Gospel for Ash Wednesday, taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, give us the three classical “pillars” of our Lenten observance: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We are told to do these things not to draw attention to ourselves, but rather so that through them, we might give praise and glory to God.

Each of these areas can help us to deepen our relationship with God during this holy season. It is important to remember, however, that all of these observances serve a deeper purpose. I want to focus specifically on the discipline of fasting, as I feel that it is often the most misunderstood of the three.

When most people think of fasting, they think simply of “giving something up.” People may choose to fast from chocolate during lent, or to do a “technology fast,” where they limit their screen time, in order to lessen their attachment to their devices. These are both well and good, but sometimes, just removing something from our lives isn’t enough. If we are not careful, it can be very easy for one negative behaviour to be replaced by another. If we want to truly experience spiritual growth during this Lenten season, we need to be intentional about how we use any time that is freed up by our fasting efforts. The prophet Isaiah, in a reading that we will hear this coming Friday, warns us of the dangers of not fasting properly. He states:

 

Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,

and drive all your laborers.

Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting,

striking with wicked claw.

Would that today you might fast

so as to make your voice heard on high!

Is this the manner of fasting I wish,

of keeping a day of penance:

That a man bow his head like a reed

and lie in sackcloth and ashes?

Do you call this a fast,

a day acceptable to the LORD? (Isaiah 58:3b-5)

 

Thankfully, the prophet gives us the remedy to these attitudes, and instructs us how to make our fast fruitful.

 

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:

releasing those bound unjustly,

untying the thongs of the yoke;

Setting free the oppressed,

breaking every yoke;

Sharing your bread with the hungry,

sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;

Clothing the naked when you see them,

and not turning your back on your own.

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,

and your wound shall quickly be healed;

Your vindication shall go before you,

and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. (Isaiah 58:6-8)

 

The key to a successful fast, then, according to Isaiah, is to direct the efforts of our fasting to some good, or to serve the needs of the community in some way. There are many ways we can do this. If we are fasting from food, or coffee, or something like that, we can donate the money we would have spent on those items to the needy. If we are fasting from something that occupies our time, we can spend more time in prayer, or donate our time to serving in the community. Whatever we do, we should ask the Lord how he is calling us to be of service to others during this Lenten season.

May the Lord bless each of you during this time of prayer and penance, and may He help lead you to celebrate the Easter mysteries with renewed devotion and strength.

 – Father Steven Huber, CSB

 

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