The last three articles have discussed ways of increasing one’s prayer life.
This article will focus on another common Lenten practice, fasting, or giving things up for our friendship with God.
For Catholics often rightfully speak of giving something up for Lent, but often do not reflect upon why we do so. Fasting involves, not only limiting the amount of food or drink, but going the extra mile to limit any legitimate pleasure, such as eating not only less food, but simpler foods, reducing entertainment, games or electronic communications, or even getting up earlier than usual. (Any sinful pleasure, of course, should always be given up.)
At one level fasting and mortifications can be seen as negative, for they involve denying a lawful pleasure. But, at a deeper level, it is a positive idea, for in giving up pleasures that we are used to, we become more open to God and His guidance in our lives. Thus, the prophets from Moses to John the Baptist spent time alone with God on the mountains or in the desert in order to be more aware of His presence; and likewise, even Jesus fasted for 40 days before His public ministry, and often went up a mountain (and thus away from the comforts of life) to be with God in prayer.
As Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote in his 1967 Apostolic Constitution On Penance, acts of mortification (disciplining earthly pleasures) are essential to strengthening the soul and increase our control over our desires. As he wrote, “This exercise of bodily mortification, . . . does not imply a condemnation of the flesh which sons of God deign to assume.4 On the contrary mortification aims at the ‘liberation’ of man, who often finds himself, because of concupiscence, almost chained by his own senses.”
As St. Paul points out, athletes deny themselves many things to attain earthly glory; and all the more should we be willing to deny ourselves things to attain heavenly glory. See Romans. I also know from law practice that attorneys and businessmen will make all sorts of sacrifices, taking time away from things they would rather be doing, to get ahead in their fields. All the more can we make sacrifices to ascend to the realms of the spirit.
Next week’s article will describe some specific practices that can help us attain this goal.