Do you fast? Prove it by doing good works. If you see someone in need, take pity on them. If you see a friend being honored, don’t get jealous of him. For a true fast, you cannot fast only with your mouth. You must fast with your eye, your ear, your feet, your hands, and all parts of your body. [On Fasting, St. John Chrysostom]
You cannot fast your way into Heaven any more than you can buy your way out of Hell. Fasting is merely a ritual of purification in preparation for Divine service. It is a vessel you board to cross turbulent waters.
Spiritual exercises, such as fasting, help us cleanse our inner being of the impurities staining it. We need to rehearse what we have learned, put into practice what we believe. This is usually very difficult.
Right thinking is not easy. Our thoughts often run amuck, out of our control, into delusion, fancy and egotism. We harbor negative thoughts toward our brothers and sisters. We make a false peace to preserve tranquility, while still holding resentment and grudges in our hearts.
Fasting for Spiritual Growth
We rarely attain to what we aspire spiritually. Our actions fall far short of our intentions. We intend, wish and hope to do what is good, but often procrastinate, prematurely quit or simply fail.
Fasting is a proven shield. Well placed, it can protect us from numerous missiles directed at some of our weakest points. On the inner front of thought, on the outer front of words and deeds, spiritual battles rage, even among hermits and recluses. We are never free of temptation.
In the same way that even a felled tree will grow again if its root is strong and undamaged, so if latent desire has not been rooted out, then suffering shoots up again and again. [Dhammapada 24:338].
However, neither the therapeutic value nor the spiritual benefits produced by fasting are ends in themselves. We must make careful distinction between ascetic practices of self-mortification leading to withdrawal, and abstinence devoted to establishing an active spiritual life. We must be ever cautious of evading reality and avoiding involvement.
We may be “saved” but we are not done. Living requires constant reaffirmation of faith in daily activity. Daily activity must be patterned in accordance with Divine guidance. To accomplish this, we need purification.
After the fast, we should feel ready to act, to engage in a better directed life. Life’s purpose should be clarified and our intentions to act righteously affirmed. We should feel ready to dive into the service of God with renewed vigor and strength, if God’s so wills.
The penitential practices suggested by the Church especially during this Lenten season include fasting. This means special moderation in the consumption of food except for what is necessary to maintain one’s strength. This traditional form of penance has not lost its meaning; indeed, perhaps it ought to be rediscovered, especially in those parts of the world and in those circumstances where not only is there food in plenty but where one even comes across illnesses from overeating. [Penitential Fasting Is Therapy for the Soul, Pope John Paul II, Sunday Angelus – March 03, 1996].