Fasting is hard. I like to eat and I don’t like to feel hungry. Most people out there can’t fathom why people would fast. I was talking to someone the other day about fasting, and he couldn’t get over the idea of intentionally denying oneself of instant satisfaction. His mindset reflects the larger problem of what we’ve become as citizens of the 21st century – driven and entitled to instant gratification. Fasting is a longstanding human practice and tradition ever since people have followed God, and I’m glad the Church still prescribes fasting to Her faithful. And I might suggest that given our current cultural mindset, fasting has more merit today than it has ever had, and if that’s the case, then we’d better fast like Men!
The practice of fasting within Christianity is as old as Christianity. Through the ages, there have been different ways the Church’s faithful have carried out the practice of fasting. There’s the intense practice of absolute fasting, which is complete abstinence from food (and drink). Somewhere along the way, Christians came to practice a partial fast, where one meal a day was permitted in the evening. It was also a practice to have this meal at midday or afternoon. Then, it came to be that a little snack (called a collation) was permitted up to twice in a day. These might typically occur in the morning and evening. Some fasts are exclusively on bread and water. And obviously we are familiar with our fast before receiving the Eucharist, which in former times was much longer than the single hour that is currently prescribed.
Today, the guidelines for fasting are as follows:
- We are only bound to fast on two days during the year: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
- We are to abstain from food except for one full meal and (if necessary) two smaller meals that, combined, are less than one full meal.
- Drink (water, juice, coffee, etc) are permitted, but solid snacking between meals is not.
- Catholics aged 18 to 59 are bound to fast.
- It should not jeopardize one’s health, so excludes those who are ill (or pregnant or breast feeding, which doesn’t apply to us Gentlemen).
- Abstaining from meat also must accompany our fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (But on other Fridays, abstinence from meat may be substituted by an act of charity or piety (such as an alternative penance).
- Finally, check with your country’s Bishops’ Conference or your local Bishop for additional guidelines, directives, or dispensations for fasting.
Now, since fasting is so counter-cultural, why do we do it?
- Jesus fasted and expected the Apostles to (Mt 6:16-18, Mt 9:14-15).
- It is an encounter with God and a participation with His grace to accomplish a task that is, in a sense, beyond our nature (supernatural).
- Fasting leads us, through proper disposition (and God’s grace), to more perfect prayer (because it is an encounter with Him).
- Practicing control of our body’s physical appetites helps us form the virtues (habits) of Self-Control and Temperance.
- It is a form of mortification that acts to counter and manage our concupiscence.
- Just like in the story of Jonah and the Ninevites, fasting is a form of penance to exercise sorrow for our past sins and offenses (it doesn’t forgive them, that’s what Confession is for).
- It gets us in the practice of denying ourselves so that we are better tuned to see opportunities of charity towards others.
- It allows us to stand in solidarity with our countless Brothers and Sisters around the world who, through poverty, war, or famine, go hungry and suffer starvation on a daily basis.
- Even at a natural level, people also fast for non-religious reasons, such as for health or medical reasons, or for weight-loss and diets.
So, be a man, and fast. If we do the bare minimum, it isn’t actually that hard (two days a year at eating slightly less than two meals’ worth of food). But perhaps, through your Manly judgment, you know that you can do MORE than just the minimum, and the Church doesn’t restrict you from it, so long as it does not conflict with appropriate prudence (it shouldn’t jeopardize your health and/or obligations). So take it a step further this year, and perhaps consider fasting on a more regular basis throughout the year. We live in a culture that satisfies itself 24/7, which suffocates any sort of spiritual life. Spiritually, and as a Man, you’ve got nothing to lose and quite a bit to gain in fasting. So, I exhort you to fast like a Catholic Gentleman! It’s a great survival tool as you make your way on your path to Manly Holiness!
Did you know that in the Church’s past, the whole of Lent was a period of fasting, not just two days we observe today? Seriously, we have it easy today…
~ The Catholic Gentleman's Guide