What do you think is the main spiritual meaning of fasting?
In Matthew 4, Christ recalls that “man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”. To abstain from food is to open a space to welcome something else. Entering into a fast directs us to a desire to form deeper relationships with the Word and those around us. We break with our habits, we start working on ourselves. Through this asceticism, the work of the Holy Spirit is done. The Fathers of the Church sensed that this process of conversion involves a particular way of relating us to the Creator.
For many Christians, fasting remains associated with a culture of guilt and coercion…
Our Christian tradition has, in fact, long associated it with heavy and exteriorized forms of penance. But Christ invites us to an interior, discreet and joyful fast. It is not a question of living it in a logic of struggle against oneself but as a reunion with the Father, in order to enter into a more fruitful and trusting relationship with him. This approach goes against a guilt-inducing attitude known by many generations of Catholics. This represents an effort, of course, to deprive oneself of food. But if we choose it and give it meaning, it increases our inner freedom.
What would you advise someone who has never fasted and wants to start?
To proceed in stages. You can start with intermittent fasting, skipping a meal like breakfast and taking time for prayer instead. Then try another time to fast twenty-four hours in a row. This allows you to know the reactions of your body. If you are used to taking a lot of stimulants (coffee, alcohol, tobacco), for example, you may end up with headaches. If you want to conduct an experiment over several days, it is essential to benefit from support, at least the first time. In particular to understand and respect the different stages of a somewhat prolonged fast: it must be preceded by a “food descent” and followed by a gradual resumption of the usual way of eating. It is also necessary to ensure the intake of water and vitamins, in the form of diluted fruit or vegetable juices. Finally, very important when you start a fast, you have to decide on a date to stop. You don’t go “headspin” by testing your limits, at the risk of putting yourself in danger. And you have to make sure you’re in a state to fast (see box below).
Fasting for several days is to be avoided for people whose body mass index (BMI) is less than 19. It is also incompatible with anorexia, decompensated hyperthyroidism, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, advanced cerebrovascular, hepatic orenal insufficiency. Beware of adverse effects due to the joint intake of certain medications (nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, antihypertensives, antidiabetics, antiepileptics, anticoagulants, psychotropics).