Why Penance? Why Fasting?

 Please listen to Father Broom's talk on Fasting & Penance
To please God not only should we “do” what is right but also we should have the right intention; in spirituality this is called “purity of intention” or “rectitude of intention.
St. Paul exhorts us, “Whether you eat or drink do everything for the honor and glory of God.”  The Ignatian motto is four letters: A.M.D.G.--- meaning, that we should do everything for the greatest honor and glory of God.

St. Faustina Kowalska constantly was striving to please Jesus, not the people that surrounded her. Some thought she was bizarre in her actions and criticized her.  Either we are “People-pleasers” or we are “God-pleasers”. Choose!  Then act accordingly!
With respect to fasting, prayer and almsgiving, Jesus repeats the admonition that these actions should not be done be seen by men, applauded and praised by others or done simply for one’s own self-aggrandizement. Rather, they should be done in secret, only to please God, and He who sees in secret will give a just recompense! (Mt. 6)

This being said let us briefly give a series of reasons why we should take seriously our Ascetical life of sacrifice, denial and self-discipline so that these actions will be pleasing to God our Heavenly Father.
1.     IMITATION OF CHRIST.  The whole life of the Christian should be an ardent pursuit of striving with all of the energy of our will to imitate Christ to the point that we can say with St. Paul, “No longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”  Obviously most of us cannot fast forty days and nights in the desert like Jesus, but we can renounce something with generosity!

2.     REPARATION OF OUR OWN SINS.  In justice due to our many sins  we are obliged to repair for the damage that has been done by our sins.  Pope John Paul II speaks about the five negative effects of our sins: theological, personal, social, ecclesial and cosmic.  St. Paul says that what we sow is what we will reap on the Day of Judgment.  A  Midas Muffler commercial had an add, “Pay now or pay later!”  Better to pay now in this life with our sacrifice then in Purgatory or worse after our life is ended!

3.     REPARATION FOR SINS OF OUR FAMILY.  We are all keenly aware of family members who have walked away from the Church, from God and the pathway to heaven. Our loved ones are suffering, even though they may not admit it; worse yet, their salvation is in jeopardy. By fasting and penance we can beg the Lord for their conversion, sanctification and eternal salvation of their immortal souls, St. Thomas Aquinas says that one soul is worth more than the whole created universe. It was saved by the Precious Blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!

4.     CONVERSION OF SINNERS.   In both of the approved Marian apparitions---Lourdes, France and Fatima, Portugal, Our Lady insisted on prayer but she also insisted on the importance of sacrifices for the salvation of sinners. At Fatima, Our Lady said that many souls are lost because there is nobody to offer sacrifices for them.   The July 13, 1917 vision of hell motivates the children to offer constant and heroic sacrifices for the conversion of sinners.

5.     SOLIDARITY WITH THE POOR. Throughout the world many people will go to bed tonight without a mouthful; children will actually die of hunger.  The plight of so many people and nations dying of hungers is a scandal especially to nations that have a superfluity of goods.  Experiencing an empty-growling stomach at times can help us to identify with our millions of brothers and sisters who experience this on a daily basis!  This is called “solidarity with the poor!”

6.     THE SPIRIT CONQUERING THE FLESH.   There is a war within every one of us as a result of Original sin called concupiscence (St Thomas); Paul calls it the battle between the flesh and the spirit.  Either the flesh will conquer the spirit and slavery to the flesh and sin will result or the spirit will conquer the flesh and the net result will be the liberty of the sons and daughters of God.  It takes prayer, penance and fasting to conquer the animal-donkey within us!

7.     FREEDOM.   When we are able to say “no” to our desires--- even when they are legitimate, then we experience true liberty.  In other words, things do not have a hold over us. We can say “yes” and “no” to eating at will. This is self-control and self-control produces a true interior liberty. Jesus states very clearly that sin is a form of slavery. Alcoholics, drug-addicts, porn-addicts, gamblers--- even though they do not want to admit it have no freedom but their addictions are a modern form of slavery!

8.      CONQUER THE DEVIL.   After Jesus had expelled the devil from a boy, the Apostles questioned Our Lord why they could not expel the demon. Jesus responded clearly: “Those types can be expelled only by prayer and by fasting.” In formal exorcisms, the exorcist must pray for the possessed person but also to fast.  The Holy Cure of Ars (St. John Marie Vianney) was able to expel the many devils from his parish as well as the convert his parish through fervent prayer and intense fasting!

9.     PRAYER GROWTH.   St. Teresa of Avila stated that sensuality or giving into the flesh and prayer do not collaborate well together. A true, authentic, and growing prayer will undoubtedly include with it that of penance or fasting.  In the desert Jesus prayed but He also fasted and He conquered the devil.  The first Novena of the Church was Pentecost.  In these nine days the Apostles united with the Blessed Virgin Mary prayed and fasted. As a result there was wind, an earthquake and fire and the transformation of the Apostles into true soldiers of Christ.

10.  SPECIAL GRACES.  St. Ignatius of Loyola invites us to pray and to add to it penance especially if we need a special grace form on high. Ignatius in the 6th Rule of discernment suggests four practices to overcome the state of desolation: prayer, meditation, examination of conscience, and  some suitable form of penance…. (Rule 6 for the discernment of Spirits, St Ignatius of Loyola).

In summary, the practice of penance and fasting is alien to the modern sensual, materialistic, hedonistic, consumerist modern American society. It seems to be a foreign language. However many pages of the Bible encourage this practice as well as the great heroes of God the saints. Therefore, with consultation with your confessor or Spiritual Director why not generously undertake some form of penance and fasting to imitate Christ, repair for sin, beg for the conversion of sinners and experience the liberty of the sons and daughters of God!