Fasting is an attitude. It is a way of looking at reality, declaring that the world does not hold you in bondage. It confines the secular world to limited significance, disregarding its deception and allurement. It is the abandonment of material and transitory illusions for indulgence in unrestrained trust in God.
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. [Matthew 6:28-32].
When Jesus exhorts his disciples to consider the way God feeds the raven and clothes the lilies of the field, he was telling to them fast. When he advised the wealthy seeker to sell all his possessions and follow him, he was telling him to fast. In neither case was Jesus advocating abstention from food, but faithful renunciation of personal worries and desires, an invitation to surrender to God’s will as an action of radical faith.
Oh, how great peace and quietness would he possess who should cut off all vain anxiety and place all his confidence in God. [Thomas à Kempis].
When we practice renunciation, abstinence and fasting, we disregard worldly affairs, scorn physical gratification, and spurn of social pleasures to please God. By this fragile demonstration of faith, we seek to establish a spiritual reality that relies exclusively on God. We seek to detach ourselves from secular entanglements and purify our thoughts, words and actions.
Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservations. [D. Elton Trueblood].
Abstention is often associated with sex and fasting with food. However, abstention and fasting have much broader meaning. Both can include avoidance of something physically attractive, and self-denial of lawful pleasures. Expanding the idea of spiritual fasting to include elimination on recurring worries, anxieties and doubts is even more rewarding.
However, giving up something of material enjoyment for a time is quite difficult without strong faith. Our attitude must reflect a reliance and trust in God that can repel rationalization and doubt.
When thou art wavering, when thou art anxious and doubtful, when arduous and difficult matters arise, do thou instantly fly to God, consult God, and with, all thy heart, with steadfast confidence, commit the whole affair to Him. Trust not to thine own industry, nor to thine own powers, but to the mercy of God; acknowledging thyself to be unable to conduct things rightly. And thus all things will end prosperously. For God will never neglect what thou hast humbly committed to Him; but will arrange, direct, and complete every affair, as He sees best for the good of thyself and others. [Spiritual Works of Louis of Blois].
This spiritual affirmation is the attitude that separates us from the brute animal nature that controls our mind. We are denying ourselves immediate pleasure and accepting discomfort, hardship and tribulation in exchange for a connection to God.
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, 1996].