This past Thursday, I was asked this question by an eleven year old. Unfortunately, at the time I was driving a van filled with girls looking for a turn amid construction and traffic, so my answer did not satisfy her or me.
Fasting along with prayer and almsgiving, must be understood in the light of the teachings of Jesus, most significantly what I call the mission statement of Christianity, the Greatest Commandment,
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 37-39)
The human soul has a great and deep yearning for God. We are made in the image of God. Unfortunately, due to the effects of our fallen nature, many times we look elsewhere to fill this need. When this happens, it can become a vicious circle. We think we are satisfied, yet we are not. We crave more, and it becomes this bottomless pit of need. For some, it is the addiction of food, drugs, or alcohol. For some, it is sex or other pleasures of this life. For some, it may be power, prestige or recognition. For many in our affluent culture, it leads to conspicuous consumption. Whatever it may be it is not God, so we are not satisfied.
Fasting or the giving up of things we love, allows us to focus on God. However, in fasting, we must be wary of the reasons why we are fasting. Scripture warns us that outward signs of fasting come to nothing if our inward motives are not focused on seeking the kingdom of God.
“Rend your heart, not your garments” warns the prophet. (Joel 2:12)
Jesus advises us “When you fast, do not look gloomy lie the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” (Matthew 6: 16-18)
So, why am I fasting?
Am I fasting because I am a Catholic Christian, and that is what is expected of me during Lent?
Am I fasting for recognition?
Am I fasting so I can lose weight?
Or am I fasting so I can detach myself for this world and depend more fully on God?
Why I fast is more important than how I fast.