During this year’s 46 days of Lent and Easter, I gave a lot of thoughts on fasting.
A friend said, “Most people are aware that many Christians do not fast if they are only the so called habitual church goers or the “nominal Christians”. Actually many strong Christians DO fast and pray for many different reasons, not just during the special season of Lent. Sometimes special prayers need to be said and they would come together to fast and pray in order to move the Holy Spirit. Such prayers become very meaningful and powerful. Prayers are answered in my own experience. I personally feel very uplifted by fasting and praying. ”
The Friday Fast of the Roman Catholics
The Roman Catholics in most countries in the world fast from meat on Fridays, while some even do the full fast, meaning, they abstain from food completely. Abstinence is the main principle behind Christian fasting.
S. Jiram told me about this part of his school life. “When I was a hostel student at Tanjong Lobang in the 60’s, on Fridays we actually had only fish. And I was quite grateful then that even the school, which was not a Catholic school, made special arrangements for this Roman Catholic practice. While the Muslims had their tables next to ours, they also saw that we were eating only fish on Fridays. Many students did not understand why fish was served on Fridays in fact. It must have become some kind of policy set by a teacher or a principal. During the Muslim fasting month, we were served food in the refractory(dining hall), while the Muslim section was closed and only opened during the early hours of the morning and after sunset. So we understood each other’s religious practices as young students.”
A priest can explain to you why a good Catholic will refrain from eating meat on Fridays. “This tradition has been observed in the holy Catholic Church to remember that Christ died on a Friday.”
General Fasting of Christians
Many Methodists adhere to the Wesley Fast. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and a man who was responsible for many social and welfare development and changes during the Industrial Age of Britain, wrote about fasting, “In a general sense, fasting can mean a number of things, abstaining from food and drink, abstaining from food only, or abstaining from certain foods for a limited period of time. In the Christian sense, fasting is abstaining from food as a spiritual discipline. “
A Methodist brethren commented, “Most Christians during Lent, fast and pray. Fasting helps us to intensify our prayers and increase their effectiveness. Fasting makes prayer more powerful and can also help us hear God’s voice more clearly.”
And another fellow Methodist also mentioned that when she fasts and prays, she becomes strong spiritually and gains a lot of insight, especially during Lent. At other times, she also fasts and prays when moved by the Holy Spirit.
John Wesley himself fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays each week as a spiritual discipline. Later he fasted from sundown on Thursday and then ended the fast at 3 pm on Friday. He often fasted for 10 days before major conferences, eating only whole-grain breads and drinking water.
The 40 day-fast
Why do many Christians fast for 40 days? “ In the Christian and Jewish tradition the number 40 has a symbolic meaning. A period of 40 days or years, more than being a literal measurement, represents a long time and a period of preparation or testing. When 40 days or 40 years have passed the appropriate period or the right amount of time has been completed in preparation for the working of God’s grace.”
A teacher once shared during Lent, “ My friends and I fast because we want to have a closer relationship with God. We are following a 40 day fast this year and have only one simple meal each day in the evening. Last year a handful of us did and it was a very rewarding period of our life. Fasting is very personal. We give up other things in our lives too like watching TV, eating in restaurants, and one of us also fasted from losing her temper in her classroom. Our group comes together to pray on a weekly basis and share our fasting experiences. Another one ate no meat at all for 40 days in order to pray for her own health and the world. It may be an old practice, but then it is also considered a NEW idea by many Christians today.”
Value of Fasting
Today many Christian churches fast and pray in large numbers before they send out their missionaries. This is following the examples set by St Paul who went on many perilous journeys during the early days of Christianity. He himself fasted and set examples.
Fasting, for the Christians, is strictly a voluntary matter. It should arise out of a feeling of intense need, not as a result of mere formality. It can be done out of appreciation for those things we deny ourselves during the periods of abstinence. Besides being beneficial to health, fasting can also bring about greater depths of contemplation. Fasting to many people is an act of faith and it usually results in greater self-discipline.
This year I have been particularly attracted to Pope Francis’s reminder.
Pope Francis’ Words
Do you want to fast this Lent?
– Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
– Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
– Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
– Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
– Fast from worries and trust in God.
– Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
– Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
– Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy.
– Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to other.
– Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
– Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.