From the Rule of St Angela Merici, one reads her thoughts on the topic of fasting, and this was a practice that featured prominently in her life of prayer. For St Angela, it was necessary that we learn from the saints who are all true friends of God, and that we imitate “above all, the life of Jesus Christ, the only way to heaven” In the Gospel of St Matthew Chapter 4 verses 1 to 11, we know that our Lord Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness in order to be tempted, and He fasted for 40 days and 40 nights and afterwards He was hungry. . . Since Jesus Christ is our way, the example of fasting is very clear.
Fasting is obligatory even in the case of blood tests, special diets and various health reasons. There is also a necessary form of fasting to help us understand the concept of God, the Father. We need to fast in order to detach ourselves from worldly things, to understand that these are not enough to fully satisfy us, to become less egoistic, more holy and able to accept spiritual values.
Fasting helps us to control our attitudes and sins, predisposing us for a meeting and a dialogue with the Lord; thus also preparing us for prayer and helping us to welcome salvation as God’s gift.
It is the foundation of our spiritual life … ‘for, as gluttony was the origin of all our ills, so it is fitting that fasting and abstinence be the source and means of all our spiritual good and profit.’
I do not fast for the things I renounce.
I want to cling not to the gifts of God, but to God who donates every gift, the Lord of all and everything.
One can, therefore, give up some of these gifts to live the life of the risen; if you have risen with Christ, look for the heavenly things and not the earthly ones.
It is the Lord’s invitation
‘That is why the holy canonist says… it was commanded by the Lord God and the transgression of the law is induced by the devil. “When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret… ” (Mt 6,17-18)
It is necessary to keep this invitation in mind and, even more important, not to be influenced by others who want to destroy it.
Saint Angela herself recommends: “Or want to prevent them from fasting or prayer or confession or any kind of good, they should immediately refer the matter to the lady- governors of The Company so that they may see to it … (Rule 3, 9-10).
And we read furthermore: “Be on your guard, lest confessor, or some other religious, turn them away from some good inspiration, or from fasting or from the firm purpose of virginity or from esteem for this Holy Rule divinely ordained or other similar good things”. (7th Counsel, 6-10)
Fasting does not mean eating little or poorly because of carelessness or bad habits and lack of will and time to prepare the food.
We are not sad or gloomy; on the contrary, we feel like queens enjoying every day as if it were a feast day with our groom. But let us keep in mind that in order to accept the invitation to the wedding, we must be prepared to give up many things so that the feast will be a success.
Let us pray, as the Church prays on Ash Wednesday:
“O Let us pray for the grace to keep Lent faithfully, Lord protect us in our struggle against evil as we begin the discipline of Lent, make this day holy by our self denial”.
Fasting becomes part of the way we live… on special occasions ‘For this reason we exhort each one to fast especially on these days of the year..
The word especially shows that Saint Angela would have liked her Daughters to make fasting a regular pattern in their lives. Fasting was considered very important in attaining Merician spirituality and when one looks at the number of fasting days and times Saint Angela indicated, the word especially seems to produce the desired effect. She urges fasting throughout the whole liturgical year.
The Bishops of the Episcopal Conference are of the same opinion; they make fasting a regular habit in the Christian personal and community life and, once again, they insist that in practising fasting and abstinence, the Church is accepting Christ’s invitation to the disciples to trust completely in God’s Divine Providence without worrying unduly about food. Life is worth more than food and the body more than clothes. Seek the kingdom of God and they will also be given to you.
In obedience to the Church, St Angela tells us . . .
8 … First… all those (days) recommended by the Holy Mother Church, that is the whole of Lent, the Ember Days and the Vigils of obligation.
9 Then: the whole of Advent…
Before dictating her wishes, St Angela expects her Daughters to respect and obey the Church and fast on the days indicated. These particular times and days are chosen by the Church in the course of the Liturgical Year because they are closer to the Paschal Mystery of Christ and are demanded in order to satisfy the needs of the Ecclesiastical Community.
The 1994 Episcopal Conference’s Pastoral Note outlines the following with regards to fasting and penance:
“While fasting during the Easter Triduum is an expression of the participation of the Christian community in the mystery of Christ’s death, that of the beginning of Lent is directed towards the confession of sins, imploration of forgiveness and the strong desire to personal conversion. These are equally appropriate and significant for the penitential practices during all the other Fridays of the year in the daily Christian life which remind us of Good Friday and as a weekly preparation for Sunday “the weekly Pascal celebration “.
St Angela, pray for us that we may have the grace to fast for our good and for the good of the Body of Christ. May we accept the discipline of fasting as a form of spiritual growth and allow the Lord to transform us. Amen.
Fasting… Let us accept the invitation of our Foundress to unite our prayer with fasting. “Let it be recalled as well that each one should be willing to embrace bodily fasting also as something necessary, and as a means and way to true spiritual fasting…(Rule 4,1-2) Fasting is not the same for everybody…but chosen, wanted, looked for, we shall find times and forms of personal fasting… A fasting not arbitrary, but in obedience in a form of dialogue with spiritual guide and the consent of the Directress…
“But as unreasonable things are not to be desired, then it must be stressed that no one Is to fast without the counsel especially of her spiritual father; and of the lady-governors of the Company, who are to reduce and diminish these fasts as they see that to be needed” (Rule 4,l8-19)
Fasting how and why…
- For conversion: “for as gluttony was the origin of all our ills, so it is fitting that fasting and abstinence be the source and means of all our spiritual good and profit.” (Rule 4,6)
- For a sober life: “Let them eat and drink, not for pleasure and to satisfy their appetite, but only out of the need to sustain nature in order to serve God better(Counsel 5, 8)
- To maintain solidarity with our poorer brothers and sisters.
Traditional devotions… Our life of prayer can find a way of expressing itself even with forms of traditional devotions, proper to the Community and the local Church. “It is necessary to give value, with due discernment, the popular forms but above all to educated for those liturgical (Nuovo Millennio Inuente 34)
In a Company, present in different territories and spread in all the world, it deals with respecting each person and each culture, and to insert oneself in his own traditions as long as one does not betray the essential and fidelity to the Church.
FASTING. This is something close to St Angela’s heart. St Angela had a strict year-round way of fasting but, while encouraging fasting, she never imposed her way on her followers. “Be sensible,” is the advice she offered.
She offered up many fasts in her life time, always praying for souls. I remember that it was one of the things that made an impression on me when I first started to learn more about St Angela. Indeed, I saw how much she was prepared to go the extra mile and so I was really struck by her fasting, and I must add that many other saints have also offered this same form of penance.
In the past, the Church had very strict fasting regulations, especially during the season of Lent. We hold that fasting is a valuable means for growth in prayer.
“Fasting …each one should be willing to embrace bodily fasting as something necessary, and as the means and way to true spiritual fasting through which all vices and errors are cut away from the mind. And to this the example of all the holy persons clearly invites us and above all the life of Jesus Christ.” Rule, Chapter IV
In the season of Lent, we usually practice some form of fasting. From what will you fast? Isaiah speaks of fasting in this way: This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke, sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked when you see them and not turning your back on your own.
What is the fast you will choose? When will we fast? Let us pray and allow the Holy Spirit to inspire us. Prayer and fasting go hand in hand, as Jesus once told his disciples. Let it be so for us too.