A Lenten Reflection by Fr. Charlie Gallagher: Fasting

We invite you to view Fr. Charlie Gallagher’s examination of the practice of fasting. Or bring the written transcription of Fr. Charlie’s video into your reflection time during this Lenten season (see below). View more Lenten resources from the CIC on our Lent 2024 resources page.

Fr. Gallagher is a great friend of the CIC, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, and pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in the Shaw neighborhood of DC.

In this third week of Lent, I would like for us to focus on the Lenten practice of fasting. 

In the Gospel from Ash Wednesday Jesus said, “When you fast, do not look gloomy” (Matthew 6:16). Jesus said “when you fast” AND NOT “if you fast.” Our Lord expected that fasting was going to be a normal part of the spiritual lives of those who followed Him. 

Fasting is truly biblical and has been with us from the very beginning. Remember when God commanded Adam and Eve to not eat the fruit from the tree of good and evil? God was telling them that there is a connection between faith and food–and that foregoing eating is a way of showing our obedience to God. God was saying, “Be under my authority by not eating the fruit of that tree.” So food and faith have indeed had a connection from the very beginning. When Jesus went out to the desert for 40 days He showed us the importance again of prayer and fasting. 

The secular world, in the last 10 years, has become enamored with fasting and the physical health benefits that we derive from it. We have heard about intermittent fasting, the warrior fast, and the 16-hour fast. We know that fasting boosts our mental clarity and that it helps us reach ketosis more rapidly. Fasting can even filter out precancerous material from our bodies. 

While there are so many physical benefits to fasting, this isn’t really our goal and this isn’t why we fast as spiritual people. Fasting helps us to become more like Christ, and when we fast we also can expect a repayment and even a payment from God. In the Gospel from Ash Wednesday, Jesus told us, “When you fast … do not appear to be fasting except to your Father, who is hidden and who sees what is hidden, who will repay you” (Matthew 6:18).

Jesus says that God will repay us if we fast in a way that is discreet, that is cheerful, that helps us to be more considerate and more loving towards others–God will repay us. How will He repay us? God will repay us according to His will and in His time.

Does fasting make God answer our prayers more rapidly? Probably, but we know for certain that when we fast that we are more attuned to hear God’s voice and are better postured to do His will. This is the real reason why we fast. 

Another reason to fast is because it is disruptive. Fasting has a way of disrupting our schedule by creating more blocks of free time for prayer. Use the time you save from not having to prepare food, eat food, clean up the food, or carry out now to pray more. 

Fasting also has a powerful way of disrupting habits and getting us out of a spiritual rut. For those of us who might struggle with a predominant sin or fault – fasting has a way of busting us out of that. I pray that as we continue on our journeys this Lenten season that by taking our fasting seriously that we will carve out a place in our souls so that God can fill us up with His presence.

Posted on March 2, 2024

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