Why Do Catholics Fast? – A Sound Practice

Why Do Catholics Fast?

Why do Catholics fast?

Have you ever tried fasting? I mean, really fasting? A lot of people who try give up during the first couple of days. They’ve been spoiled by the abundance of food in the modern world, and they stop the instant they feel hunger pangs.

You can hardly blame them. Fasting sucks.

So why do Catholics do it?

Catholics and other Christians fast to develop self-mastery. They also do so to practice obedience. Fasting also builds empathy and the capacity for sacrifice. Moreover, Christians use fasting as a way to share in the sufferings of Christ and thereby move closer to him.

So, how does fasting allow Christians to achieve the aforementioned goals?

Let’s go ahead and find out.

A Common Trap

Many people call themselves Christians and believe that being Christian means begin nice to people. Sometimes these people try fasting.

Then, while they are fasting, they begin to feel grumpy and irritable. So they treat people poorly.

They then proceed to tell themselves,”I’m treating people poorly, and I wouldn’t do that if I weren’t fasting. Therefore, I should stop fasting.”

This is an self-serving rationalization which people use as an excuse to avoid fasting. No Christian should employ it.

A far better response to one’s own irritability during fasting is to pay closer attention to what one says and does. But many Christians choose to take the easy way out and err because of it.

You can avoid this mistake by resolving to stop creating selfish rationalization which permit you to behave as you like.

Christians Fast to Build Discipline

Why does fasting build discipline?

Because it helps us say no to our appetites.

You see, most people are controlled entirely by their feelings.

They say whatever they feel like saying.
They do whatever they feel like doing.
And they believe whatever they feel like believing.

These people are slaves to their feelings, and they lack any sort of control over them. Their feelings command, and they obey.

In this way, most people are slaves to things which are both within them and outside of their control.

Would freedom from one’s masters be preferable?

The Christian believes so, and he fasts to obtain this freedom.

By choosing to willingly endure the pangs of hunger and self-denial that are brought on by fasting, the Christian is able to develop fortitude which allows him to oppose his carnal masters.

By fasting, the Christian teaches himself discipline. He can then use this discipline to gain freedom from the master within him. It is only after the Christian learns to say no to himself that he can then say no to the malevolent forces in the world around him.

So by fasting the Christian frees himself from himself and strengthens his resolve against evil.

Why Do Catholics Fast? – Christian Fasting Shows Obedience

When a Christian fasts, he does so at times which have been allotted for fasting. So, by observing his fasts at these times, the Christian shows his willingness to hold himself accountable to powers above him.

So fasting is a tool that Christians can use to demonstrate their willingness to listen to authority. When a Christian fasts according to the regulations of his church, he demonstrates his recognition of that church’s authority.

And developing the ability to hold oneself accountable to an authority is necessary in order for someone to be Christian because the First Commandment requires it.

I am the Lord thy God. You will have no other gods before Me.

The Lord does not permit man to hold any God before Him, not even man himself.

Why Do Catholics Fast? – Christianity Encourages Sacrifice

When you remember the fact that fasting improves your discipline, it can be easy to believe that the purpose of fasting is personal development, but this is not he case. Personal growth is a pleasant consequence of fasting, but the real purpose is to accustom oneself to sacrifice.

Proper worship requires sacrifice. How could anything else be the case? If you are unwilling to sacrifice for the sake of what you worship, then you do not really have any faith in it at all. Your worship begins and ends with its convenience. Then, when the object of your worship needs you to sacrifice for its sake, you will abandon it.

So the capacity for self-sacrifice is a necessary component fo worship.

Yet this underrated talent does not come naturally, and few people every develop it.

Fasting is one of the safest and most convenient ways to develop the capacity for self-sacrifice.

And Christianity, by affirming the value of fasting, has elevated the cultivation of this talent to an act of worship.

Why Do Catholics Fast? – To Know Empathy

The most easily recognized reason for fasting also happens to be one of lesser importance.

Fasting helps us defeat our indifference toward those who are hungry, homeless, or suffering. People often fail to demonstrate any interest in the lives, needs, futures, or sufferings of others. This is sometimes driven by a lack of empathy, and empathy for the suffering of others can be developed by voluntarily suffering as they do.

The Stages of Fasting

People who have pushed themselves through many periods of fasting have discovered that fasting progresses through three stages.

The first stage is the “hunger pang” stage, and most people leave their fast as soon as they enter it. Normal people eat so frequently that they never enter this state in the first place. The presence of the first hunger pangs incites the faster to make his first important decision during the fast.

“To eat or not to eat, that is the question.”

The faster then makes his first conscious decision to avoid eating. This choice is the second stage of the fast.

The third stage requires the faster to repeatedly choose not to eat despite his hunger pangs. The hunger pangs become more bearable during this stage, and the remembrance of the fast becomes more important in order to avoid breaking it.

Many people simply forget themselves in the third stage and eat without thinking. The demand for constant focus during this stage makes it more demanding than the previous two. Experienced fasters have noted that it becomes easier to make this choice when they equate it with the decision to identify with those who suffer involuntarily.

Why Do Catholics Fast? – To Join Christ

A key feature of Christ’s personality was his willingness to take the sufferings of the world upon himself when he could have chosen to avoid them. Therefore, churches encourage Christians to emulate this behavior.

They are encouraged to take a part of the suffering of the world upon themselves and to overcome it as Christ did. Fasting allows them to routinely accomplish this goal.

What Fasting Is Not

Fasting is not “giving stuff up”. It requires one to things go, but that choice is not the point of fasting. Sacrifice for the sake fo sacrifice is masochism.

Fasting is always done in order to experience willful sacrifice that allows Christians to know God more deeply. This understanding allows virtuous fasting to be applied to those other things in life which we would prefer to keep.

Moreover, understanding fasting’s purpose helps us identify those who, for unclean reasons, would compel others to fast.

Nor does fasting permit a Christian to abandon other responsibilities. Fasting expands the Christian life, and it cannot replace any part therein. It is best practiced in combination with charitable activity. In an ideal fast, one would give something up and allow another person to enjoy it.

Although Christians should watch out for those who would try to exploit this.

An Overview

Fasting is a key tool Christians use to enhance their worship. By fasting, they develop the capacity for self-sacrifice and emulate their savior. It thereby allows Christians to master themselves and prepares them to resist wicked forces in the world around them.

If you are uncertain about the value of fasting, then find something in your life which you know you would be better off without. Abstain from it for a month, and reflect on how your life was during that time.

Chances are, you’ll probably find you were a lot better off without it.

Thanks for reading,

Tag: Why Do Catholics Fast?

Gene Botkin

Gene is the director of the Theosis Christian Project. He studied physics and military science before founding the Project. Gene is currently pursuing his doctorate in systems engineering at an engineering college in the Ozarks. The Theosis Christian Project is his attempt to expand Holy Orthodoxy in America.

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