Fasting = Lenten Time, Well Spent: A Homily by Deacon Jim Hyatt

So, what have you given up for Lent? Always a fun question to ask people, to see what they are doing or going without… maybe it gives us ideas what we should do because maybe we haven’t decided ourselves yet. When it’s Lent, we know we are supposed to fast so we’ve all probably given something up and we’re avoiding meat on Friday’s right? Me, I gave up peanut butter, hot sauce and hot peppers, which I love. I gave something up I love, so I am good… right?

Well, you may be like me. I quickly arrived at a decision on what I am giving up and I check the box. Lenten fast – check! Now I can get back to concentrating on my busy life…. 

But do we know what fasting really is and why we fast? What does fasting actually do for us? That’s what we need to consider today as we enter our second Sunday of Lent.

What is fasting and why do we do it? Fasting is one of the five precepts of the Church or what the Church asks us to do as a minimum every year. They are: 

  1. Attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days 
  2. Hit confession at least once per year 
  3. Receive the Eucharist at least once per year, especially during Easter 
  4. Provide for the needs of the Church and for the poor 
  5. Observe days of fasting

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, fasting brings about “conversion in relation to one’s self, to God and to others.” So, we see that fasting is not just something we do, it actually has an impact on who we are.

Fasting during Lent on Fridays is done in memory of the crucifixion and death of our Lord on Good Friday. Fasting throughout the 40 days recalls and unites us with the time that Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days. 

OK, so what does fasting do for us? I mentioned earlier that fasting is not just something we do; it has an impact on us and who we are. Jesus went into the desert for 40 days right after his baptism and fasted for all of those 40 days. When he was through, the devil came to temp him as we heard last week. And this is important because it shows how the forty days of fasting and prayer changed Jesus. The devil tempted Jesus with the best the world has to offer… and Jesus flatly rejects Satan as we know because he was strengthened through fasting and prayer. And it can strengthen us too!

When we fast, we go without and we live more simply. And it is with this simplicity (and prayer) that we can achieve a conversion of our hearts and a strengthening of our will. Two key points here.

First, when we don’t fill up on food and all the wonderful things available to us, we make room for something, and that something is God. We make room in our very lives for Jesus Christ by simplifying and asking him to come into our lives more deeply. Think of the going without as creating room; it is up to us to fill it correctly with something that matters beyond all else.

And the second reason that fasting changes us is that it creates a habit that strengthens us. By going without, we not only create room, we demonstrate that we can. I can go without that which I love because I am creating room for something that I should love more! By this practice of self-discipline, I create a habit and strength to avoid temptation and avoid sin. Fasting helps me follow Christ more faithfully because I have made room and I am more powerfully able to avoid sin. That’s how fasting changes us.

There is much more to fasting than food as we’ve seen – it creates space for Jesus Christ in our lives, it strengthens us to avoid temptation and sin… and you know what? It can create time. How does fasting create time? Well, we need to think beyond food. 

We all say, “If I only had more time, I would make Lent more meaningful.” Fasting can create time if we expand our definition of what we fast from. Have we ever considered fasting from:

  • Social media
  • Screen time, in all its forms
  • TV
  • Shopping for stuff we don’t really need or can do without
  • Gaming
  • Busywork 

We can all probably come up with a long list of things to not do during Lent.

And fill our time with:

  • Prayer
  • A rosary
  • Giving alms
  • Scripture reading
  • Quiet and meditation
  • Thanksgiving
  • Reading a book about a Saint or listening to a Catholic podcast
  • Entering the hurt of another
  • Adoration – we have open hours!
  • Attend and bring someone to daily Mass 
  • Stations of the Cross 
  • Visit the grave of a loved one

All worthy ways to spend our found time to make the most of Lent. And just watch how it changes us too, changes our priorities, what we value and how we love.

Fasting. Yes, we are supposed to do it, but when we stop and think about it, we get a lot more out of it than we may have imagined. I said earlier that fasting and penance brings about conversion in relation to one’s self, to God and to others and I think we can see that now. Fasting strengthens us to avoid temptation and sin, it makes room in our hearts and our lives that can be filled by God, and it can create time during Lent (or anytime during the year) to focus our filling of that space with what really matters above all else.

That’s how we arrive at Easter and say, “Lenten time, well spent.”

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