Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Even though "true fasting" means doing the will of God, the voluntary renunciation of food is "a spiritual arm to do battle against every possible disordered attachment to ourselves," "helps the disciple of Christ to control the appetites of nature, weakened by original sin," and "is an aid to open our eyes to the situation in which so many of our brothers and sisters live," calling upon us to follow the example of the first Christian communities, which gave to the poor what had been set aside through abstinence.
The practice of fasting is the topic of Benedict XVI's message for Lent this year, entitled "Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry" (cf. Mt. 4:2), made public today. In the document, the pope observes that "In our own day, fasting seems to have lost something of its spiritual meaning, and has taken on, in a culture characterized by the search for material well-being, a therapeutic value for the care of one’s body. Fasting certainly bring benefits to physical well-being, but for believers, it is, in the first place, a 'therapy' to heal all that prevents them from conformity to the will of God." Lent can therefore be a good opportunity so that "the authentic and perennial significance of this long held practice may be rediscovered, and thus assist us to mortify our egoism and open our heart to love of God and neighbor, the first and greatest Commandment of the new Law and compendium of the entire Gospel (cf. Mt 22, 34-40). The faithful practice of fasting contributes, moreover, to conferring unity to the whole person, body and soul, helping to avoid sin and grow in intimacy with the Lord."
Benedict XVI then recalls that Sacred Scripture and Christian tradition "teach that fasting is a great help to avoid sin and all that leads to it. For this reason, the history of salvation is replete with occasions that invite fasting. In the very first pages of Sacred Scripture, the Lord commands man to abstain from partaking of the prohibited fruit." In the New Testament, "Jesus brings to light the profound motive for fasting, condemning the attitude of the Pharisees, who scrupulously observed the prescriptions of the law, but whose hearts were far from God. True fasting, as the divine Master repeats elsewhere, is rather to do the will of the Heavenly Father."
"Denying material food, which nourishes our body, nurtures an interior disposition to listen to Christ and be fed by His saving word. Through fasting and praying, we allow Him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God. At the same time, fasting is an aid to open our eyes to the situation in which so many of our brothers and sisters live." "By freely embracing an act of self-denial for the sake of another, we make a statement that our brother or sister in need is not a stranger. It is precisely to keep alive this welcoming and attentive attitude towards our brothers and sisters that I encourage the parishes and every other community to intensify in Lent the custom of private and communal fasts, joined to the reading of the Word of God, prayer and almsgiving."