Fasting of the Heart (1)

Refuge from the Transitory
In the hectic pace of modern existence, less time is available for private moments of tranquil and pensive contemplation. The ever-intrusive media, our commercial endeavors, social and domestic demands and our indulgence in recreation and entertainment leave little time for any profound thinking.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us learn from the Blessed Virgin. The Gospel tells that she pondered in her heart the events of her life (cf. Lk 2:19) seeking in them the unfolding of God’s plan. Mary is the model to whom we can all look. Let us ask her to give us the secret of that “spiritual fast” which sets us free from the slavery of things, strengthens our soul and makes it ever ready to meet the Lord. [Pope John Paul II, Sunday Angelus, March 10, 1996, Penitential Fasting Is Therapy for the Soul].

We must establish a sacred place within ourselves where we can take refuge from the transitory to better meditate and contemplate our Lord. Why is it necessary to have moments of profound thinking and remembrance of God? The more we are distracted from the truly significant aspects of our lives, the more we sink into material distractions, inconsequential pursuits and unsatisfying involvements.

Stand only near the man who fasts, and you will straightway partake of his good odour; for fasting is a spiritual perfume; and through the eyes, the tongue, and every part, it manifests the good disposition of the soul. [John Chrysostom,  Homilies on the Statues, Homily 10].

By remembering the protection and mercy that God provides, we alleviate anxiety and assuage our grief. Remembrance of God quiets our intellect and soothes our thoughts.

Power of God
When we know and trust in the complete power of God, we find peace and security whenever we remember this all-encompassing force. This remembrance is what rituals and liturgy seek to evoke.

The polemic word Samad refers to Allah’s absolute transcendence from the material world. In fasting the observer disengages from his body and transcends his material needs in emulation of God. Through the sublimation of the need for food or drink, in fasting one assumes the quality of samad; a divine space is carved in the heart of the faithful. Observing Ramadan as such modulates to an inner religious experience; Ramadan is the fast of the heart . . . This renunciation of pleasure, the fast of the heart, is to be understood as an act of love and as a personal offering to Allah himself. [Dr. Ali Qleibo, Ramadan: Fasting of the Heart].

Fasting complements rituals and liturgy  by adding a mystical dimension to the religious experience. Fasting helps to bring the thought process back in line with spiritual affirmations. It helps Divine Light to penetrate the heart and inspire the mind.

Let us therefore discover anew the humility and the courage to pray and fast so that power from on high will break down the walls of lies and deceit: the walls which conceal from the sight of so many of our brothers and sisters the evil of practices and laws which are hostile to life. May this same power turn their hearts to resolutions and goals inspired by the civilization of life and love” [Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 100].

Contemplation of the Divine Reality brings our existence in proper perspective. During such periods, we can better concentrate our mind on elevated thoughts of higher import. This is one of the primary reasons for fasting, to remove the mind from mundane concerns of everyday reality and focus on significant matters that have eternal consequences.

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster..” [Joel 2:12-13 (ESV)].

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