Fasting, coupled with prayer, is one of the most powerful spiritual weapons we have in our struggle against the devil, sin, and the passions. This is undoubtedly why the Holy Church, as a loving Mother, consecrates several periods of fasting throughout the year, including the 43-day Fast of the Nativity, which we just began.
The power of fasting comes from its connection to self-denial, the practice of saying “no” or “not now” to our impulses. Almost always, our impulses begin with a slight feeling of emptiness, a small prick that reminds us of something we lack. Afterwards comes a complex thought process by which we negotiate in our minds, “What can I do? How can I gain what I feel is missing?” Finally, the time comes when we make a decision to act on this impulse.
All modern advertising is based on this process. For example, imagine a person watching a commercial for a new smartphone. The commercial boasts that this smartphone has the fastest specifications of any phone on the market and showcases the amazing things people have done with this phone. As the person watches this commercial, an impulse comes to life. He feels a slight discomfort reminding him that his own phone is at least one generation behind. He compares what he has done with his phone to the amazing things highlighted in the commercial and decides his own accomplishments are much less impressive. “If only I had that phone,” he ponders, “maybe I could do _____.” He now begins the complex thought process by which he asks himself how he might acquire this new device. Oftentimes, the commercial itself will try to answer this question so the man doesn’t have to think too much. Finally, the time for a decision comes. He decides to inspect the phone in person, and then afterwards…
We deal with similar impulses many times throughout the day. In some cases, these impulses relate to necessary matters, such as eating, but in other cases, these impulses pertain to unnecessary matters, such as buying things we don’t need or entertaining ourselves with things that are not beneficial. In both cases, there is a danger. If we constantly give in to these impulses, we oftentimes lose self-control. We begin to eat, drink, watch television, use social media, listen to music, shop, etc. in an excessive manner to the point that those things actually hurt and separate us from God. Of course, while we’re “in the moment,” we don’t actually realize this is happening, because we’re focused on satisfying the impulse and getting rid of that slight feeling of discomfort. In this way, a harmless impulse can become a dangerous habit.
Fasting is powerful, because it enables us to cut off the impulse before we give in. It helps us realize that many of the impulses in our lives relate to unnecessary things while helping us to be more moderate in the necessary things.
Any period of fasting is a wonderful opportunity to say no to our impulses and realize that we can be perfectly happy living a simple and spiritual life in the embrace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the saints who walked before us on the sanctified path of self-denial.