If you fast, let it show in your works!
In the words of St. John Chrystostom:
“The value of fasting consists not only in avoiding certain foods, but in renouncing all sinful attitudes, thoughts and desires. Those who limit fasting just to food are not taking advantage of the great value it contains. If you fast, let it show in your works!”
“If you see a brother in need, take pity on him. If you see a brother being praised, do not be jealous. In order for fasting to be true, it cannot involve only fasting with the mouth; you must also fast with your eyes, ears, feet, hands and your whole body; your entire interior and exterior.”
“You fast with your hands when you keep them pure through selfless service to others. You fast with your feet when you are swift to love and serve. You fast with your eyes when you do not look at impure things, or when you do not scrutinize others in order to criticize them. Fast from all that puts your soul and your holiness at risk. It would be useless to deprive your body of food, but to feed your heart with sordid things, with impurity, with egoism, with rivalries or with comforts.”
“You fast from food, but you allow yourself to listen to many vain and worldly things. You should also fast with your ears. You should fast from listening to things that people say about your brothers and sisters, to lies about others, especially gossip, rumors or harsh words that harm others.”
“Besides fasting with your mouth, you must fast by not saying anything that could harm anyone else. After all, what good is it for you to abstain from meat if you devour your brother?”
What does St. John Chrysostom teach us through this reflection?
He teaches us that days of fasting should especially be days of abstaining from the disordered or even just exaggerated use of our other senses: not looking at what I should not, not saying what I ought not, not desiring what I must not, not seeking to satisfy all my emotional or spiritual needs; not seeking to fill my loneliness by looking immediately for company; not wanting to know everything; not requiring immediate answers to every question that comes to my mind; etc.
We fast by seeking conversion. Therefore, let us fast from all activities that are contrary to virtue. Perhaps your fast will consist in serving others more (fasting from your laziness and comfort). Just as the Virgin Mary asks us to pray from the heart, we must also fast with our hearts. It may be that we need to fast from our anger, being friendlier, more loving and easier to get along with on days of fasting. Or maybe I have to fast from pride, actively seeking humiliation, or carrying out concrete acts of humility, etc.