“When you fast, wash your face and comb your hair. Then your fasting won’t be obvious. Instead, it will be obvious to your Father who is with you in private. Your Father sees what you do in private. He will reward you.” (Matthew 6:17-18).
Happy February! I’m sure all of us are looking forward to Valentine’s Day, *cough* husbands *cough*. This year is unusual though. February 14th is Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting, abstinence, and the start of Lent.
For the last several years, my Lent, Ash Wednesdays, and Good Fridays have looked a little different. This will be my third year breastfeeding or pregnant during Lent. Last year I was both!
Due to health reasons, I have not been able to fast traditionally. It’s very difficult to even abstain because of iron deficiencies during these stages of childbearing. So, in 2022, despite growing up Catholic, I had to learn the true value of fasting for the first time in my life.
Fasting begets temperance.
Temperance is the Cardinal Virtue by which we learn self-control and restraint over excess. When you think about it, the Fall of Man occurred due to lack of temperance. Eve wanted more than was good for her to have. Adam could not control his desire for his wife, and fell with her. Fasting is our opportunity to deny ourselves a good (food) and detach ourselves from the temptation of excess. Excess can quickly turn most good things into bad ones!
Fasting is food for the soul.
It nourishes the soul in a way food cannot. When we fast and deny ourselves a good in the name of temperance, we unite ourselves to Christ. It does not “earn us more Heaven points” or make God hear us louder. It forms our soul to be more willing to sacrifice, to work toward Heaven, to perfect ourselves. Fasting and prayer are a powerful combination. They grow our inner strength while declaring our dependence on God.
Fasting is a unique sacrifice.
Like I said before, I have not been able to fast traditionally in recent Lents. But fasting is not just, not eating. Fasting is not dieting. It is a sacrifice of good for the greater glory of God, designed to form our souls with temperance. We can fast from alcohol, from television, from unnecessary conversation, in favor of spiritual growth. Fasting can be a re-framing of sacrifice thrust upon us. During my pregnancies, I have been able to fast from pride, from “victim mentality,” from complaining. Those are never good things, but they are often results of the pain and weakness that come from growing a human being inside your body—which is a very good thing!
As Jesus says, do not appear to be fasting. Do not be tempted to take fasting as an opportunity to glorify yourself for your temperance. Let your fasting be in secret, quietly nourishing your soul. The Father who sees in secret with repay you. Your life will change very noticeably if you grow in virtue silently.