Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.

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Fasting, as a form of self-discipline, has a long history in the religions of the world. During the 24 hours of Yom Kippur, the holiest of the High Holy Days, the Jews abstain from both food and water from the eve of the holy day until sunset the following day. During this time they are also in their synagogues praying for forgiveness and reflecting on the spiritual dimension of their lives.

Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan. From daybreak to the setting of the sun, not even a drop of water passes their lips. Fasting, they feel, makes them think, teaches them self-discipline, underscores their dependence on God and sensitizes them to the plight of the poor and the hungry.

For centuries Catholics observed a rigorous fast during the 40 days of Lent. In 1955 Pope Paul VI suggested that fasting be adapted to the economic conditions of each locality. Consequently, the American bishops restricted obligatory fast days to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday; they also recommended voluntary fast during the other days of Lent. Most importantly, they linked fasting to works of charity and to attendance at Mass.

Americans are rediscovering today the value of fasting. They are reinventing the wheel. But they are fasting not for religious reasons but for reasons of health, vanity, and success in sports, business, and in the social and political world. Those who fast for religious reason enjoy all of these other side-effects as a bonus.

Fasting has to do primarily with food. While a large part of the human race suffer from malnutrition, Americans are suffering from obesity. It is estimated that 5% of the world’s population use 30% of the world’s goods.

Let us consider food under three headings: necessity, optimum and excess. Fasting would be located somewhere between necessity and optimum.

1) NECESSITY: The amount of food necessary to preserve life is ridiculously low. People who go on a hunger strike can survive without food for about a month. People in the Far East live on what we would consider a pittance. And they are healthier than we are!

2) OPTIMUM: for good health. There are only so many vitamins and minerals the body can use. The surplus is simply wasted. One doctor has said that there are more vitamins in American sewers than in American bodies.

3) EXCESS: excess is not only a waste of food that millions of people in the world would love to have, it is not only a waste of money that could be used to help the less fortunate, it is a burden, a burden on me! We are talking about enlightened self-interest.!

Listen to this. There is in your body hundreds of miles of blood vessels. And there is about five quarts, not of oil, but of blood. And the heart is a pump. And this pump has to pump these five quarts of blood through these hundreds of miles of blood vessels. And for every extra pound of flesh there is another mile of blood vessels. And the pump has to pump these five quarts of blood another mile. The old “Geritol” commercial used to talk about “tired blood.” It is not the blood that is tired but the heart. Listen to an expert, Orson Wells, “one third of the food we eat keeps us alive. The other 2/3 keeps the doctors alive.” He ought to know, he weighed about 300 pounds.

There are only two days of fasting during Lent, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. That does not mean that we cannot or should not fast on other days. Now that we know the value of fasting we should do this on our own. We should think for ourselves, take the initiative and assume responsibility for our own personal actions. Lent is a time to get back to the basics and fasting is about as basic as you can get.


© 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J. all rights reserved