If I’m being honest, when I think about fasting, I’m probably more likely to think in terms of dieting rather than spiritual discipline. It wasn’t until I tried to implement regular fasting into my life that I realized how backward this was for me as a practicing Catholic. Fasting isn’t a foreign concept by any means, but leaning on the Church for our understanding of it provides much deeper roots than approaching it merely for its physical benefits or as part of a diet.
Historically, fasting and abstinence was a regular part of the life of the Christian community. During Lent, we abstain from eating meat on Fridays, but traditionally this practice was kept all year long — until recently when we were permitted to substitute a different form of penance to remember Christ’s death each Friday.
Want more Radiant? Sign up for our weekly newsletter!
This past year, the idea of fasting as a regular discipline came up enough for me to feel like God was inviting me to try it. However, implementing it proved much harder than I expected. As I tried to set parameters for myself for fasting, my mind buzzed with questions: How could I excel at this? How long before I could build to a full day of fasting? Should I add in broth on those days? And so on. I spent weeks thinking about these things until I realized they all had one thing in common: It was all about me.
As a spiritual discipline, fasting is about so much more than us. Once God granted me this clarity, I simply began to implement what the Church has encouraged its members to do in the past: fast and abstain from meat on Fridays throughout the year.
The Church advises that on days of fasting, we are to eat one large meal and two smaller meals (which combined are less than the larger meal). Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ve found this to be enough to challenge me to make sacrifices, while also reminding me that when we fast, it’s not a competition.
The simple act of eating less food, not snacking between meals (especially at work where there are donuts) and obeying a command imposed by a higher authority reminds me throughout the day on Fridays that God is present in my life. It also reminds me that my life is intimately connected to Christ’s passion and death. One way to honor that is by taking up small sacrifices like this regularly.
I’m sure I’m not alone in regularly hearing the benefits of going meatless or cutting back on meat, yet we have such a rich heritage to lean into as believers. As a community, Catholics used to be marked by their fasting and abstinence from meat on Fridays year-round.
Even though this is not the case anymore, we don’t have to mindlessly pick a day to go without meat. By taking up this old practice, we get to link our habits and meals to something so much bigger than diet choices. We can unite ourselves to Christ’s life, death and resurrection in such an ordinary way. Doing so, we bear witness to the reality that we proclaim at Mass each week and enter into a lifestyle rooted in liturgical living.
Fasting as spiritual discipline
When we work at spiritual disciplines in our lives, our minds naturally turn to things that are more spiritual in nature: prayer, Mass, adoration. But fasting reminds us that we can worship God with our bodies as well as our hearts. It also gives us a very real way to work on discipline that overflows into the spiritual realm. By choosing to go with less food, we train ourselves in sacrifice and prepare ourselves to suffer for Christ. We can’t choose our cross, but we can choose to prepare for it in a way that glorifies God.
While I’m far from perfect at it, taking up the practice of regular fasting has deepened my experience of Christian living. It helps me reframe my approach to food and diets by challenging me to really live out St. Paul’s words that “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). It makes me feel more connected to my identity as a Catholic, and it challenges me to rely on God in whatever disciplines I take up — because we truly do depend on him for everything.
If you’re looking for a way to reignite your prayer life, deepen your ties to our faith or reorganize your feelings toward food, the spiritual discipline of fasting may just be what you’re looking for.