Reflection for Friday, February 19, 2021: Friday after Ash Wednesday.

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Purcell, Tom
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|I suspect for most of us, fasting is not part of our ongoing spiritual activities.  Certainly, when Lent rolls around we engage (some more diligently than others) in fasting.  But for the remainder of the year, the practice of fasting is ignored.  I recall from my youth in the 50s (pre-Vatican II) that fasting was an integral part of the week – one could receive the Eucharist only if they had fasted since midnight.  If someone was a daily communicant, that meant they daily fasted from midnight.  But, in reality, that fasting was more ritually than physically demanding.  Most people were asleep during most of the time from midnight until the first mass of the day or Sunday.  The hunger pangs were not strong if one attended 7 a.m. mass.|We know that in some religions fasting is a respected means to spiritual growth.  Indigenous peoples would fast as preparation for spiritual quests – vision quests – to focus the mind on the spiritual instead of the physical.  Muslims fast during Ramadan following very rigorous practices.  Observant Jews not only practice fasting but also follow kosher dietary restrictions.|Some people fast for physical, rather than spiritual, reasons.  Fasting can certainly be part of a regular healthy lifestyle or diet, resulting in periodic decrease in the consumption of sugar, or fats, or carbohydrates.  Fasting also can be a practice to increase one's will power.|We generally think of fasting as reduction in food intake, but I think we could see fasting in a broader plan of self-denial.  Food fasting denies the body of caloric intake, but the practice of "giving up" something for Lent also is a fasting, in a manner of speaking, from a practice or pleasure that someone otherwise enjoys.  So, foregoing television or drinking or other actions is really a fasting from them.|It is important, I think, for us during a season of preparation to remember to couple fasting with prayer, reflection and contemplation.  Most of the biblical references to fasting refer to this duality – fasting AND prayer.  If one engages in food fasting as a means to lose weight, there are physical benefits and the coupled activities are food denial and better health. |But if one is motivated to engage in fasting for religious or spiritual purposes, the paired activity must be prayer or reflection.  The act of fasting is more deeply appreciated if the context is to de-emphasize physical gratification as a means to increasing awareness of spiritual influences.  The fasting then reinforces the observation of Teilhard deChardin – we are not physical beings in search of the spiritual, but spiritual beings in search of a physical experience.  And so the self-denial of fasting reinforces the spiritual reality of our existence.|Indigenous peoples use fasting to focus on the vision quest they are undertaking.  It seems that fasting during Lent, if coupled with meaningful prayer and reflection, can present the same benefits as a vision quest. |For those of us who choose to engage in serious fasting during Lent, as we fast perhaps we should ask: From what are we fasting – i.e., what is it really we are denying ourselves?  What are the benefits we observe in ourselves as we fast – physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual? What is it we seek from God in our process of fasting?  What enlightenment, what appreciation for our limitations, what sense of gratitude for Jesus, what sorrow for our inability or insensitivity in seeing the love of God manifested in our lives and in those around us? What changes can we make in ourselves as we see how we cope with our diminished consumption of whatever it is we deny ourselves through fasting?  Do we really need as much of what we had been consuming?  How will our lives be better if we continue to deny ourselves that from which we are fasting?|For thousands of years of human existence, and across multiple religions and spiritual practices, we see people engaging in reflective fasting.  There clearly is value in this physical and spiritual practice.  And so, my prayer today is for the gift to pair my fasting with prayer and reflection that helps me understand better what God is calling me to do at this moment in my life.   
University Ministry, Creighton University.
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