Fasting – a word we normally reserve for Lent. Once Easter comes, we box it up and package it away until the next Lent. Yet this should not be so among Catholic men. A while ago, Sam discussed the great benefits of fasting.
Now you may be thinking … Fasting sounds great, but where do I start? … Let’s take some time to look at the basics of fasting well.
Preparation: It is important to develop a strategy before beginning to fast. This starts with setting a realistic goal. For example, you should start simple, such as a bread and water fast for one meal, one day a week. Also, select your fast day. I recommend Wednesday or Friday, as these are the two traditional Catholic days to fast, commemorating Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion. As you grow in fasting discipline, you could increase your fast to multiple meals on fast day or even multiple days a week.
Water: Water helps purify our bodies of toxins, while providing only the basic hydration we need to survive. When fasting, make sure to bring a water bottle with you throughout the day and drink frequently to stay hydrated. One temptation may be to slip in a cup of coffee or soft drink during the day. However, stay strong against this temptation. The bread and water will satisfy your basic needs even if they do not bring the comfort of your favorite food or beverage.
Bread: Selecting the proper fasting bread is crucial to a successful fast. Since the typical bread we eat is processed and devoid of most nutritional value, I recommend the bread made by the group, Live the Fast. As a bonus, if you are a priest, seminarian or religious, they will send you bread free!
Their bread is all-natural. They bake the bread, freeze it, and then ship it to your home along with a booklet of fasting instructions. Once you receive it, you place it in the freezer. On fast day, you take the bread out of the freezer and heat it in the oven for a few minutes. The bread is filling but austere; to give the one fasting the nutrition needed to complete the day’s tasks and nothing more.
Prayer: While you are heating up the bread, grab a notebook and write down your prayer intentions for the day. Maybe a friend has lost a job, a relative is sick, or someone has asked for your prayers. Keep the list with you and offer up prayers for these people throughout the day.
After the bread is finished baking, take it out of the oven, say a prayer and then eat your first piece. As you go throughout the day, look for extra opportunities to pray, especially during meal times. Maybe you could attend daily Mass, or stop to visit the Blessed Sacrament during your lunch break.
Intentional prayer during fasting helps remind us that fasting is not purely an ascetical practice. We forgo food to grow closer to God, not to show how tough we can be on our bodies. The hunger we experience while fasting instills in us the truth that nothing in this world can satisfy us but God alone.
Temptations: You will undergo many temptations while you fast, so stay close to God in prayer. One may be to boast to your friends about how great you are for fasting. Jesus warned us in the Gospel that those kinds of people are hypocrites. The purpose of fasting is to draw us closer to Christ, not draw others closer to us for our own greatness.
Another temptation may be free food. Just like during Lent when meat becomes more available and appealing on Fridays, expect more temptations to eat during the fast. A co-worker may offer you a snack or tell you about some leftovers from a department’s lunch in the break room. Stay vigilant against these temptations and focus your mind on other things. The less you think about food during the day, the easier it will be to fast.
Breaking the Fast: End your fast day with a prayer. Thank God for the day and then prepare a normal sized meal. The temptation can be to gorge yourself with food after eating less during the day, but this is not beneficial. Eat your meal slowly and mindfully. Thank God for the gift of food and the grace he gave you to fast well.
Just like any other habit, fasting can be a difficult to begin and you may want to quit. You will have days where you fast well and others where you give into hunger easily. Do not be discouraged but persevere! God has great graces for those who fast and will help draw near to him those who seek him through the discipline of fasting.
“Fasting purifies the soul. It lifts up the mind, and it brings the body into subjection to the spirit. It makes the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of desire, puts out the flames of lust and enkindles the true light of chastity.” (St. Augustine)
More Resources:The Catholic Gentleman.