Secular interest has eyes turned toward this ancient discipline
Prayer and comfortable living are incompatible. —St. Teresa of Avila
After the joyful anticipation of Advent, the overwhelming cheer of Christmas, and the everyday optimism of Ordinary Time, my favorite liturgical season is finally upon us.
Happy (by which I mean somber and solemn) almost-Lent to all of you! Yes, next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday.
For us Catholic hipsters, Lent is that very special time of year when we can grab our sacrificial living by the horns and live it up — by not living it up.
We give up something we love, embrace something we have a hard time working into our normal routine, walk proudly into our place of employment with that “speck of dirt” on our foreheads, eat every single Filet O’Fish in sight, and, perhaps most importantly, we fast.
The discipline of fasting in the Catholic Church goes all the way back, and I mean all the way back.
In the Old Testament, Moses fasted for 40 days as he prepared himself to receive the Ten Commandments, David fasted as a sign of grief when Abner was murdered and even those pesky Ninevites fasted when Jonah came preaching their impending doom.
Not to be outdone, Jesus taught the benefits of fasting with both word and deed. He fasted for 40 days in preparation for his temptation by the Devil, pointed out that his disciples would mourn and fast after he had left them, and ensured us that certain things we hope for can only be achieved through both prayer and fasting.
The discipline of fasting has continued down through the centuries of the Church, though in our own generation, perhaps it has fallen out of the favor it has had at other times. I have been assured that the discipline of fasting was stronger in the church my parents grew up in, for instance.
Still, it seems to me that fasting is primed for a resurgence among younger Catholics, and much like recent focus on Natural Family Planning, I believe we will owe the comeback in part to our secular culture helping us to better see the benefits of our traditional Catholic practices.
From Web MD to NPR to Coldplay on ABC News, the benefits of fasting have been popping up everywhere in the secular media lately. And much like the whole-food-organic-everything lifestyle pointing to Natural Family Planning, this science-backed fasting news will certainly drive many to look to the practice as a means of improving physical and spiritual health.
And that means more Catholics will start to look into fasting for the same reasons.
However, for all the good the secular media is doing by promoting fasting, they’re missing by more than a bit the greatest benefit.
Fasting is powerful when it becomes an intentional sacrificial offering to God, when we hand him our denial of self for the purpose of uniting ourselves with the suffering of Jesus on the Cross.
It may seem utterly unbelievable to us, but he has set the world up in such a way that we can do something as simple as skipping breakfast, and he can turn it into something of eternal value.
As we commence with Lent, and take up our cross by fasting on the days prescribed by our liturgical calendar, let’s consider carrying this practice beyond Good Friday.
Let’s start making a point of offering up a fast for someone’s intention, and letting him or her know we’re doing it. Because while saying you’ll pray for someone shows you’re a person of faith, saying you’ll fast for someone has the potential to be an epic moment of evangelization.
Tommy Tigheis a Catholic hipster, husband and father. You can follow him on Twitter @theghissilent.