By Fr. Matthew Langager.
Parochial Vicar, St. Mary’s, Our Lady of Lourdes and Holy Family, Little Falls
Prayer could be said to be the glue that binds us to God. It is a grace given to us by God by which we freely respond in faith and love. Our responding to God in prayer is an affirmation that God has bound himself to our hearts.
In recent decades another form of adhesive has risen in popularity which can further increase our understanding of how God binds himself to us. This product is two-part epoxy.
In a two-part epoxy the first part is the resin that adheres to the object. The second part is the hardener which has the task of solidifying the epoxy and speeding up the time it takes to fully cure. In the spiritual life fasting is the hardener which solidifies our attachment to God.
To some this may sound like pelagianism (a 5th century heresy which, among other things, states that a person can achieve heaven without supernatural grace simply by exercising one’s free will). This is not the case in fasting out of love for God, since it is by grace that one has the capacity and strength to make a fast which is pleasing to God. Evidence for this is given in scripture.
In the Acts of the Apostles, the ministry of Paul and Barnabas is one that was inspired by the Holy Spirit and confirmed by prayer and fasting.
In chapter 13, while they were at the Church of Antioch, the Holy Spirit called Paul and Barnabas to go out on their first journey. This calling was confirmed and strengthened by more praying and fasting.
In chapter 14, Paul and Barnabas had made many disciples and again they prayed and fasted for those disciples who were appointed elders of various churches. The appointment of people for missionary journeys, and the appointment of elders was so important that fasting was included alongside prayer because it solidified their desire to love God and do his will.
In Matthew 6:16, Jesus said, “When you fast, do not look dismal like the hypocrites.” Jesus tells us how to fast because he actually desires for us to do it. In verse 18 of the same chapter, Jesus gives us further instructions to fast in secret because our father who sees in secret will reward us. God will reward us because it pleases him that we fast.
Not only does Jesus ask us to fast, he shows us.
We find in Matthew 4, that Jesus spent 40 days in the desert abstaining from all food and drink. Of course we should not and could not abstain from food and drink to this extent without dying, but everything that Jesus said and did is suitable for instruction. Jesus’ fasting was a manifestation of his devotion to the father. We are called to manifest our devotion to the Father through fasting just as Jesus did.
The missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas is a reflection of Jesus’ mission; the call of the Holy Spirit strengthened by fasting. Before Jesus went into the desert he was accompanied by the Holy Spirit as well. The Holy Spirit was manifested by a dove after Jesus was baptized by John. Then after Jesus’ fasting in the desert he began his own missionary journey as he went from town to town throughout Galilee and Judea spreading the Gospel.
Fasting is not only an expression of our devotion to our God, but it strengthens our will to do what he asks of us. As we refrain from pleasures of this world, fasting becomes a weapon to resist future temptation. If we can refrain from the most basic of human needs and pleasure, i.e. food, how much more will we be able to avoid temptations in other areas of our life? At the time fasting may seem constraining since we are not free to eat what we want, but as our will is strengthened through that restraint and we will be more free to choose Christ’s love in the face of future temptations.
Like Jesus, Paul and Barnabas, we all have a mission given to us by God. Through prayer we discern what God’s will is for us and through fasting his will is solidified and strengthened within us so that we will be more able accept and act upon the love he offers us.