Pope Francis on Fasting
by A Monk of Quarr
Fasting is one of the three pillars of Lent. Linked together with prayer and almsgiving (charity) they are expressions of the central purpose of Lent, which is a turning to God and a conversion of heart.
In his homily during Mass on Ash Wednesday 2019, Pope Francis reminded the faithful that the Gospel proposes three steps that are to be undertaken without hypocrisy and pretence: almsgiving, prayer, fasting. He said they are practices that bring us back to the three realities that do not fade away: “Prayer reunites us to God; charity, to our neighbour; fasting, to ourselves”
He explained that “God, my neighbour, my life” are the realities that do not fade away and in which we must invest.
Lent, Pope Francis said, invites us to focus, “first of all on the Almighty, in prayer, which frees us from that horizontal and mundane life where we find time for self but forget God. It then invites us to focus on others, with the charity that frees us from the vanity of acquiring and of thinking that things are only good if they are good for me. Finally, Lent invites us to look inside our heart, with fasting, which frees us from attachment to things and from the worldliness that numbs the heart. Prayer, charity, fasting: three investments for a treasure that endures”.
The age-old spiritual exercise of fasting involves giving up something good, and even necessary, for a greater good of spending that time in prayer, spiritual conversation, reading, study, etc., with a focus on one’s devotion to Christ. Fasting has traditionally involved abstaining from food, either completely or just certain foods; for the entire day or just for a meal. Today, many having dietary restrictions choose a different sort of fast: from technology, or “screens” (phone, computer, tablet, TV). The purpose of fasting is not simply to experience abstinence, it is to focus more intently on Christ.
In Lent 2017, Pope Francis offered these thoughts on fasting:
Do you want to fast this Lent?
Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
Fast from anger and be filled with patience
Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
Fast from worries and trust in God.
Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy.
Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.
Pope Francis says “Fasting makes sense if it really chips away at our security and, as a consequence, benefits someone else, if it helps us cultivate the style of the Good Samaritan, who bent down to his brother in need and took care of him.”
Speaking to visitors on 28th February this year, in St. Peter’s Square, who had gathered for the Angelus, Pope Francis said his advice for Lent included adding a different kind of fasting “that won’t make you feel hungry: fasting from spreading rumors and gossiping.” People should fast, he said, from gossiping and spreading hearsay as part of their Lenten journey. He continued, “For Lent this year, I will not speak ill of others, I will not gossip and all of us can do this, everyone. This is a wonderful kind of fasting.”
I end by offering the following from which we can abundantly eat, slowly digest, and obtain much spiritual sustenance:
The Fast Life
Fast from judging others;
Feast on Christ dwelling in them.
Fast from fear of illness;
Feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute;
Feast on speech that purifies.
Fast from discontent;
Feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger;
Feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism;
Feast on hope.
Fast from negatives;
Feast on encouragement.
Fast from bitterness;
Feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern;
Feast on compassion.
Fast from suspicion;
Feast on truth.
Fast from gossip;
Feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from problems that overwhelm;
Feast on prayer that sustains.
Fast from anxiety;
Feast on faith.