Fasting must not seem to you of little importance or superfluous. Those who fast, in accordance with the Church’s customs, should not think to themselves: What is the point of fasting? You shorten your life, you bring about something negative. Can God want you to torment yourself? It would be cruel if he took pleasure in your suffering…. But you should respond to the tempter in this way: I will certainly impose privation, but it is so that he will forgive me, to be pleasing in his eyes, that I may enjoy his delightfulness…” [St Augustine, Sermo 400 De utilitate ieiunii].
O Lord, I place myself in your hands and dedicate myself to you. I pledge myself to do your will in all things: To love the Lord God with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength. Not to kill. Not to steal. Not to covet. Not to bear false witness. To honor all persons. Not to do to another what I would not wish done to myself. To chastise the body. Not to seek after pleasures. To love fasting. [Saint Benedict].
Pope Leo the Great
But there are three things which most belong to religious actions, namely prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, in the exercising of which while every time is accepted, yet that ought to be more zealously observed, which we have received as hallowed by tradition from the apostles: even as this tenth month brings round again to us the opportunity when according to the ancient practice we may give more diligent heed to those three things of which I have spoken. For by prayer we seek to propitiate God, by fasting we extinguish the lusts of the flesh, by alms we redeem our sins: and at the same time God’s image is throughout renewed in us, if we are always ready to praise Him, unfailingly intent on our purification and unceasingly active in cherishing our neighbour. This threefold round of duty, dearly beloved, brings all other virtues into action: it attains to God’s image and likeness and unites us inseparably with the Holy Spirit. Because in prayer faith remains steadfast, in fastings life remains innocent, in almsgiving the mind remains kind. [Pope Leo the Great].
Pope Clement XIII
Rather, penance also demands that we satisfy divine justice with fasting, almsgiving, prayer, and other works of the spiritual life. Every wrongdoing–be it large or small–is fittingly punished, either by the penitent or by a vengeful God. Therefore we cannot avoid God’s punishment in any other way than by punishing ourselves. If this teaching is constantly implanted in the minds of the faithful, and if they drink deeply of it, there will be very little cause to fear that those who have discarded their degraded habits and washed their sins clean through sacramental confession would not want to expiate the same sins through fasting, to eliminate the concupiscence of the flesh. [Pope Clement XIII, Appetente Sacro (On the Spiritual Advantages of Fasting) 1759].
St. Francis of Sales
If you are able to fast, you will do well to observe some days beyond what are ordered by the Church, for besides the ordinary effect of fasting in raising the mind, subduing the flesh, confirming goodness, and obtaining a heavenly reward, it is also a great matter to be able to control greediness, and to keep the sensual appetites and the whole body subject to the law of the Spirit . . . [St. Francis of Sales. (1567-1622) Introduction to the Devout Life. Ch. 23 On The Practice of Bodily Mortification].
The scripture is full of places that prove fasting to be not the invention of man but the institution of God, and to have many more profits than one. And that the fasting of one man may do good unto another, our Saviour showeth himself where he saith that some kind of devils cannot be cast out of one man by another “without prayer and fasting.” And therefore I marvel that they take this way against fasting and other bodily penance. [Sir Thomas More].
St. Ignatius of Loyola
As to foods, one ought to have the greatest and most entire abstinence, because as the appetite is more ready to act inordinately, so temptation is more ready in making trial, on this head. And so abstinence in foods, to avoid disorder, can be kept in two ways, one by accustoming oneself to eat coarse foods; the other, if one takes delicate foods, by taking them in small quantity. [St. Ignatius of Loyola].
Pope Pius XII
From the very earliest time the custom was observed of administering the Eucharist to the faithful who were fasting. Towards the end of the fourth century fasting was prescribed by many Councils for those who were going to celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice. So it was that the Council of Hippo in the year 393 issued this decree: “The Sacrament of the altar shall be offered only by those who are fasting.” Shortly afterwards, in the year 397, the Third Council of Carthage issued this same command, using the very same words. At the beginning of the fifth century this custom can be called quite common and immemorial. Hence St. Augustine affirms that the Holy Eucharist is always received by people who are fasting and likewise that this custom is observed throughout the entire world. [Pope Pius XII, 1953].
Pope Paul VI
This exercise of bodily mortification—far removed from any form of stoicism—does not imply a condemnation of the flesh which sons of God deign to assume.48 On the contrary mortification aims at the “liberation” of man, who often finds himself, because of concupiscence, almost chained by his own senses. Through “corporal fasting” man regains strength and the “wound inflicted on the dignity of our nature by intemperance is cured by the medicine of a salutary abstinence.” [Pope Paul VI, Paenitemini (Apostolic Constitution On Penance) 1966].
Pope John Paul II
Fasting is to reaffirm to oneself what Jesus answered Satan when he tempted him at the end of his 40 days of fasting in the wilderness: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4)… Today, especially in affluent societies, it is difficult to grasp the meaning of these Gospel words. Consumerism, instead of satisfying needs, constantly creates new ones, often generating excessive activism. Everything seems necessary and urgent and one risks not even finding the time to be alone with oneself for a while . . . Penitential fasting is obviously something very different from a therapeutic diet, but in its own way it can be considered therapy for the soul. In fact practiced as a sign of conversion, it helps one in the interior effort of listening to God. [Pope John Paul II ].
Today, especially in affluent societies, St. Augustine’s warning is more timely than ever: ‘Enter again into yourself.’ Yes, we must enter again into ourselves, if we want to find ourselves. Not only our spiritual life is at stake, but indeed, our personal, family and social equilibrium, itself. One of the meanings of penitential fasting is to help us recover an interior life. Moderation, recollection and prayer go hand in hand. [Pope John Paul II].
One of the meanings of penitential fasting is to help us recover an interior life. The effort of moderation in food also extends to other things that are not necessary, and this is a great help to the spiritual life. Moderation, recollection and prayer go hand in hand. . . . This principle can be appropriately applied to the mass media. Their usefulness is indisputable, but they must not become the “masters” of our life. In how many families does television seem to replace personal conversation rather than to facilitate it! A certain “fasting” also in this area can be healthy, both for devoting more time to reflection and prayer, and for fostering human relations. [Pope John Paul II, Penitential Fasting Is Therapy for the Soul, 1996]
St Augustine’s warning is more timely than ever. “Enter again into yourself.” Yes, we must enter again into ourselves if we want to find ourselves. Not only our spiritual life is at stake but indeed our personal, family and social equilibrium itself. [Pope John Paul II, Penitential Fasting Is Therapy for the Soul, 1996].
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, Penitential Fasting Is Therapy for the Soul, 1996].
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].
Pope Benedict XVI
Fasting means abstaining from food, but includes other forms of self-denial to promote a more sober lifestyle. But that still isn’t the full meaning of fasting, which is the external sign of the internal reality of our commitment to abstain from evil with the help of God and to live the Gospel . . . [Pope Benedict XVI].
In our own day, fasting seems to have lost something of its spiritual meaning, and has taken on, in a culture characterized by the search for material well-being, a therapeutic value for the care of one’s body. Fasting certainly bring benefits to physical well-being, but for believers, it is, in the first place, a “therapy” to heal all that prevents them from conformity to the will of God. [Pope Benedict XVI].
Through fasting and praying, we allow Him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God. [Pope Benedict XVI].
It seems abundantly clear that fasting represents an important ascetical practice, a spiritual arm to do battle against every possible disordered attachment to ourselves. Freely chosen detachment from the pleasure of food and other material goods helps the disciple of Christ to control the appetites of nature, weakened by original sin, whose negative effects impact the entire human person. Quite opportunely, an ancient hymn of the Lenten Liturgy exhorts: ‘Let us use sparingly words, food and drink, sleep and amusements. May we be more alert in the custody of our senses.’ Since all of us are weighed down by sin and its consequences, fasting is proposed to us as an instrument to restore friendship with God. [Pope Benedict XVI ].