Lent is a time of change and sacrifice. In his Lenten Message of 2009, Pope Benedict XVI said, “The faithful practice of fasting contributes, moreover, to conferring unity to the whole person, body and soul, helping to avoid sin and grow in intimacy with the Lord.”
As we approach Lent this year, perhaps we can take some time to consider the spiritual practice of fasting and how it can cultivate peace in our hearts.
Everyone wants peace: no wars, no terrorism, no slavery, no abortion, no oppression. However, when we start arguing with someone about an insignificant topic, or when we don’t want to admit we’re wrong, or when we have a hard time forgiving someone, it can be difficult to find that peace within ourselves.
How can we foster this peace in our hearts?
Regular fasting (together with prayer) cultivates peace in our hearts. Fasting invites the Holy Spirit in to heal our hearts, our relationship with God, and our relationship with others. Fasting helps us to be selfless instead of selfish.
Let’s take for example, forgiving someone. We are all called to be merciful and forgive those who have hurt or offended us.
But what if the offense is grievous? Say, like torture, abuse, rape, or murder? And what if the person we must forgive is not repentant?
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus didn’t give any exceptions to this rule. We will be forgiven as we forgive those who trespass against us. We are still called to be merciful and to forgive regardless of the offense. We are all called to have peace in our hearts. Forgiveness and showing mercy to others helps heal our hearts and souls. However, forgiving someone, especially those who have grievously harmed us, is not easy and it is impossible without God’s grace. Fasting opens our hearts to this beautiful grace and peace.
Throughout my life, a relative of mine was verbally abusive to me and to others in our family. Eventually, she was diagnosed with a mental illness and, with medication, she was able to stop being verbally abusive. When she got older and began exhibiting signs of dementia, however, it seemed like she was falling back into her former caustic, abusive self. I had thought that I had forgiven her but realized that I never did forgive her for all the cruel things she had said and done to me. At that point, I had already been fasting for several months, and my confessor suggested that I fast and pray for this relative to help me to forgive her. So I fasted and prayed for her and eventually, I realized that I had been given the grace to forgive her and to speak about and treat her with the utmost love and kindness. I don’t think I could have done that without praying and fasting for her.
Lent is a time of change and sacrifice. Fasting and prayer together will help to cultivate peace and forgiveness in our hearts. Fasting will invite the Holy Spirit in to heal our hearts, our relationship with God and our relationship with others.
Fasting is not an easy practice with our society’s current tendency to overindulge. However, if you can do penitential acts during Lent, if you can fast during Lent, then you can fast all year round!
What I try to do throughout the year is to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays (using the Ash Wednesday/Good Friday fast of no meat and eating two small meals, then one meal that is no larger than the two small meals combined). I’m 59 years old, so fasting is not obligatory for me, but I fast because I’ve experienced many great spiritual, emotional, and physical benefits.
Always check with your physician before beginning any fasting routine.
Copyright 2019 Ellen Gable Hrkach