The Essence of Christian Fasting

Fasting has an important place in all the great religions. The Old Testament lists fasting among the corner-stones of the spirituality of Israel: "Prayer is good when accompanied by fasting, almsgiving and justice" (Tob 12:8).3 Fasting implies an attitude of faith, humility and complete dependence upon God. Fasting is used to prepare to meet God (cf. Ex 34:28; 1 Kgs 19:8; Dan 9:3); to prepare for a difficult task (cf. Jgs 20:26; Es 4:16) or to seek pardon for an offence (cf. 1 Kgs 21:27); to express grief in the wake of domestic or national misfortune (cf. 1 Sam 7:6; 2 Sam 1:12; Bar 1:5). Fasting, inseparable from prayer and justice, is directed above all to conversion of heart, without which – as the Prophets declared (cf. Is 58:2-11; Jer 14:12; Zech 7:5-14) – it is meaningless.

Before beginning his public mission, Jesus, driven by the Holy Spirit, fasted for forty days as an expression of his trusting abandonment to the Father’s saving plan (cf. Mt 4:1-4). He gave precise instructions to his disciples that their fasting should never be tainted by ostentation and hypocrisy (cf. Mt 6:16-18).

Following the biblical tradition, the Fathers held fasting in high esteem. In their view, the practice of fasting made the faithful ready for nourishment of another kind: the food of the Word of God (cf. Mt 4:4) and of fulfilment of the Father’s will (cf. Jn 4:34). Fasting is closely connected to prayer, it strengthens virtue, inspires mercy, implores divine assistance and leads to conversion of heart.

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