Fasting: Connecting to Joy – Catholic Review

Here is an ancient and empowering wisdom from the desert fathers: “Do not trust your own righteousness, do not worry about the past. But control your tongue and your stomach.

Intermittent fasting is a big thing these days. Hmmm. Interesting. The church had a practice of fasting years ago when we fasted from midnight before receiving communion the next day. Why would the church need such preparation to meet our Lord through the Eucharist?

Because such preparation increases our joy. Try practicing a longer fast before Communion. Instead of the one-hour fast we observe today, go for three hours or even longer. The donut after mass will be even better!

There’s an old story about famous comedian Groucho Marx meeting a pompous monsignor in an elevator. The priest turns to Groucho and says imperiously, “Mr. Marx, I just want you to know that I realize that you have brought laughter and joy into the hearts of millions. Groucho responds, “Thank you, Padre. I wish I could say the same for you guys.

We need to cultivate joy in our lives, especially during this unending COVID-19 pandemic. In “Resisting Happiness,” Matthew Kelly forcefully notes that when we choose what’s bad for us, we end up feeling unhappy.

I eat that third donut and a few hours later I wonder, “Why did I do that? Again?” We refuse to forgive, we are stingy with our money, we watch hours of Netflix but can’t find five minutes to pray before bed. Such choices deny happiness. Such choices ward off joy.

The practices of Lent – praying, giving alms and fasting – can fill us with joy.

Alright, you say. Practicing prayer and helping others can make us feel hope and experience love. We pray, pay attention to God, and realize that God loves us and cares about us. We give alms to show mercy and help those less fortunate.

“Alms” comes from the same Greek root that gives us the word mercy, “eleos”, the compassionate solicitude of God that we call upon at the beginning of every celebration of the Eucharist.

But fast? How can fasting fill us with joy? It just makes me hungry and grumpy. We have all met someone who is “hungry”.

Fasting makes us appreciate all that we have received. We notice how our minds, hearts and souls are tuned and shaped when we go without them for a period of time. It’s when you’re sick that you realize how wonderful it is to be healthy. It is when we are hungry that we realize what needs to be filled within us.

And fasting isn’t just about food. Try turning off the TV, Netflix, or Amazon Prime for Lent (or at least on weekdays). Notice how long it is when you don’t look at the screen for three or four hours a day.

Do you want to go really radical? Put your cell phone down for 24 hours and enjoy a Sabbath. Abstain from sex and see how wonderful connection is when truly anticipated. Make a conscious effort not to say anything bad about anyone. See how long you can do it!

Fasting wonderfully focuses our attention. When we stop absorbing so much, space opens up. We notice the grace of God at work in us. When we fast, we disconnect from certain things in order to be more aware and filled with other realities that bring us peace, hope and joy.

By fasting, we are more likely to practice the transcendental precepts of Jesuit Father Bernard Lonergan: Be mindful; to be intelligent; be reasonable; to be responsible.

Notice also that Jesus chose to remain among us as food, bread and wine transformed into sacramental body and blood.

A wonderful Eucharistic moment happened a few months ago on Route 95 in Virginia. A snowstorm paralyzed traffic for hours. People had no food or water and no way to get it. It was a 48 mile save with 12 inches of snow all night and temperatures in the teens. It was “the road trip from hell”. People were forced to fast.

After a long, cold night in their car, a young couple noticed they were sitting behind a truck from Baltimore’s Schmidt Baking Company, which supplies bread to McDonald’s and Popeyes nationwide. Casey Holihan called Schmidt’s customer service. Twenty minutes later, Chuck Paterakis, co-owner of the company, called her back and told her to contact the truck driver.

Ron Hill had spent the night in the truck thinking of all the hungry people around him, but the bread was bought and paid for. In 14 years of driving, it was the worst traffic mess he had ever seen. He prayed. “Tears started to fall from my eyes,” he told the Baltimore Sun.

At that moment, he heard a knock. It was Casey with a message to “call Chuck”. Paterakis told Ron to “pass out the bread”. Casey, her husband and Ron handed out hundreds of loaves to stranded motorists.

Imagine the joy! Fresh bread after sitting in the cold all night without eating anything. The name Paterakis comes from the Greek and “pater” means “Father”. In a sense, Our Father provided bread to the hungry on Route 95 after their overnight fast.

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