Fasting is normally defined as “abstinence from all food and liquid for a defined period, usually a period of 24 hours, or a number of days, especially as a religious observance”.
In Matthew 6:16-18 (NABRE), the Lord said;
"16 When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
[17-18] But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you."
So fasting is not something new in our lives.
It has been practiced among the Christians, Jews, Muslims and many other groups for centuries in connection with their religious ceremonies.
In christianity, fasting is a biblical way to truly humble ourselves before God. The scripture tells us in the books of Psalm 35:13 and Ezra 8:21 that King David humbled himself before God through fasting.
And according to some scholars, "fasting enables the Holy Spirit to reveal our true spiritual condition, resulting in brokenness, repentance, and a transformed life."
We can also see that in both the Old and the New Testaments for example, fasting was a way of preparing spiritually for something spiritually important.
Just to name a few examples:
In the book of Exodus 34:28, the scripture tells us that Moses fasted for forty days in preparation for receiving the Ten Commandments.
In the book of Daniel 10:2-6, the prophet Daniel fasted for three weeks before receiving his vision. In 1 Kings 19:8 - Elijah, the prophet also fasted forty days before God spoke to him.
And finally, in the books of Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13, we all know how Christ our Savior fasted for forty days in preparation for His temptation by the devil and for the beginning of His ministry.
And just recently, while going through the daily reading and then the Saints of the day, I came across a homily of St. Peter Chrysologus, posted by Deacon Keith Fournier in his blog at www.beliefnet.com stating that "Prayer knocks, fasting obtains, mercy receives.
I personally found it interesting so I decided to share it with you all.
St. Peter Chrysologus was born in the year 406 and born again to eternal life in the year-450. This Bishop of Ravenna, Italy was one of the great preachers of his age. In fact, his wonderful homilies and exhortations earned him the nickname “golden words” which is what “Chrysologus” means. This is but an excerpt from one of his Lenten sermons which is offered on Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent in the Office of Readings for the Church. It is entitled “Prayer knocks, fasting obtains, mercy receives.”
“There are three things, my brethren, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.
“Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself.
“When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give. If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery.
“Let this be the pattern for all men when they practise mercy: show mercy to others in the same way, with the same generosity, with the same promptness, as you want others to show mercy to you.
“Therefore, let prayer, mercy and fasting be one single plea to God on our behalf, one speech in our defence, a threefold united prayer in our favour.
“Let us use fasting to make up for what we have lost by despising others. Let us offer our souls in sacrifice by means of fasting. There is nothing more pleasing that we can offer to God, as the psalmist said in prophecy: A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; God does not despise a bruised and humbled heart.
“Offer your soul to God, make him an oblation of your fasting, so that your soul may be a pure offering, a holy sacrifice, a living victim, remaining your own and at the same time made over to God. Whoever fails to give this to God will not be excused, for if you are to give him yourself you are never without the means of giving.
“To make these acceptable, mercy must be added. Fasting bears no fruit unless it is watered by mercy. Fasting dries up when mercy dries up. Mercy is to fasting as rain is to earth. However much you may cultivate your heart, clear the soil of your nature, root out vices, sow virtues, if you do not release the springs of mercy, your fasting will bear no fruit.
“When you fast, if your mercy is thin your harvest will be thin; when you fast, what you pour out in mercy overflows into your barn. Therefore, do not lose by saving, but gather in by scattering. Give to the poor, and you give to yourself. You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give to others.”