It is never easy to fully discern all of the motives that we might have in doing a particular thing. Nevertheless, we ought to try to the best of our ability to do so. For example, when we look at the penitential practices in our lives we need to ask ourselves why we are doing them. What is our intention in fasting? Penitential practices are meant to help sharpen our ability to hear God’s word for our lives – to help us discern His will and to overcome the obstacles that may exist to its completion.

Fasting has a tradition that dates back to before the time of Christ. When we examine its history we see that there are many good reasons to deny ourselves food for a particular period of time. It helps us to understand and to be in solidarity with those who do not have all that we have. Fasting is not necessarily just confined to food! We can fast from television, a particular hobby that we may enjoy a lot or many other things. What is important is that have the element of sacrifice attached to it so that we can be drawn into a deeper understanding of the lives of those who suffer.

Fasting also has particular intercessory power. It is a way of demonstrating our commitment to a particular issue in our lives at a given time. Lord, I am praying for such and such an intention and to show you that I really mean it I am choosing to fast from this ‘thing’ for this length of time. We need to remember that fasting does not ensure that we will get what we are asking, however, it is an expression our commitment towards that goal.

If we reflect upon Jesus’ 40 day fast in the desert we will notice that immediately following it there are the temptations. Perhaps we can see in fasting an aid that helps us to surrender and entrust our lives more fully into the hands of God. Jesus refutes the devil’s temptations by relying upon the Word of God, not His own strength! He defers to God’s Word and allows it to do the talking for Him. There is a lot in this for us! How much better off would we be in our fight against temptation if we relied upon the power of God rather than our own strength.

Have I ever taken on the practice of sustained fasting for a particular cause? Perhaps I might like to try it the next time I am confronted with a major decision or issue in my life?

Lord Jesus, you did not exempt yourself from penitential practices even though, strictly speaking, you had no need for them. Help me to embrace a life of penance for my sins and in intercession for the work of the Kingdom of God. Help me to have the right motivation when doing this.