Jesus said with the utmost clarity: “Some devils can only be cast out by prayer and fasting.”(Mt. 17:21) Often the devil or devils have a real stronghold in our lives, and to make things worse, we are not even aware of it. One of the greatest victories of the devil is to hide or camouflage himself, or better yet, trick us into believing that he does not even exist!
Saint Ignatius of Loyola, in his rules for discernment (Rule 13, first week of Rules for discernment) states that devil likes to work in secrecy and strives to get us to keep our interior lives secret to everybody. This secrecy even includes hiding our state of soul to our Confessor or Spiritual Director.
The same saint emphasizes the fact that when we are going through tough times of desolation a tactic of the devil is that he convinces us to keep it under lock and key, keep it to ourselves—top secret! As such the devil will magnify and accentuate our problem transforming it from a mole-hill into a mountain. A small cut can get infected, and eventually turn gangrenous and even lead to an amputation. Spiritual maladies have to be brought to the Spiritual doctor— that is to say, a good Confessor or Spiritual Director.
An essential tool to be used frequently, prudently, and with proper spiritual direction is the tool of penance; and fasting is one of the primary applications of the penitential life.
On one occasion while I was taking a walk, a big black bird was in my path. As I drew closer, I expected the big bird to take flight, but he did not. At first, it occurred to me that maybe I was a modern Saint Francis, but that was not the case at all. The bird was land-bound for the simple reason that he had either wounded or even broken one of his wings!
A spiritual reflection flashed across my mind and it was this: we can be compared to that black bird! The bird is created to fly high into the deep blue sky! Likewise the human person, created in the image and likeness of God and baptized into the family of God, is called to fly high in the spiritual life, and eventually reach heaven.
However, for the human person to soar high into the mystical heights he needs two strong wings, to loft him on high: 1) Fervent prayer, and 2) constant penance. The Spiritual writers call these two dimensions of the spiritual life the Ascetical life which leads to the Mystical life!
This being said, we would like to outline some of the basic reasons why the human person should pray fervently all the days of his life, but at the same time cultivate a penitential life marked by the practice of fasting. Unless we have strong and sufficient reasons to motivate us we will never really undertake the practice seriously.
Here we go with the reasons to learn to fast:
1. Imitation of Christ. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Indeed He is our model! Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights in the desert, giving us an example to follow. (Mt. 4:1-11) Few if any of us can fast forty days and forty nights—the duration of the Lenten Season! But we all can do at least a little. The Saintly Cure of Ars said that fasting is hard just at the start and then it becomes a habit.
2. Personal Reparation. We are all born as sinners with Original Sin. Then during the course of our lives we commit actual sins. In justice we are obliged to repair for the sins we have committed in justice towards God. An old Midas muffler commercial put it succinctly: “Pay now or pay later.”Better for us to pay now than to do so later in Purgatory. Fasting indeed can be a powerful means to shorten our stay in Purgatory!
3. Family Reparation. We all know of family members, either in our blood family or family circles, of members who have simply walked away from God, no longer believe in God, are indifferent to God or even at times violently opposed to all that refers to God. These individuals who were redeemed by the Precious Blood of Jesus are in desperate need of prayer and fasting. Our Lady of Fatima warned us seriously: “Many souls are lost because nobody prays and offers up sacrifices for them.” Who knows, maybe our acts of penance could save immortal souls for all eternity!
4. Social Reparation. On the level of our nation we must apply ourselves to serious prayer and reparation and fasting due to the many moral evils that are afflicting our country—especially the scourge and plague of abortion. About every 20 seconds a baby is aborted, three a minute, and 4,000 a day in USA. Since Roe vs. Wade, Jan 22nd, 1973, approximately 45 million surgical abortions have been perpetrated. Due to the fact that this river of innocent blood of innocent babies has been shed, we all must feel it incumbent upon ourselves to carry out fervent prayers and fasting. Actually the Bishops of the United States have proclaimed January 22nd as a National day of prayer and penance (fasting) to repair for the sins of abortion as well as to prevent future abortions. Let us all do our part with generosity!
5. Cast Out Devils. As we said earlier in the essay Jesus said that some devils can be cast out only by prayer and fasting. Saint Pope John Paul II mentioned in one of his discourses that sin can even be institutionalized—that is to say embedded or deeply engrained in the fabric of society. How true even more so today. Abortion institutionalized since 1973, the legalization of Same-sex unions that have the same legal status as Traditional marriages, States legalizing Euthanasia—the killing of the elderly and infirm, widespread legalization of embryonic research resulting in killing of the little/tiny babies in laboratories, the deep encrustation of the pornographic culture destroying the minds and hearts and families at large. This institutionalization of sin can only be cast out and conquered by the strongest spiritual medicine—fervent prayer to Almighty God and rigorous and constant penance. One of the most convincing examples of prayer and fasting was the person of the Cure of Ars, Saint John Marie Vianney. He fasted many days by eating nothing, or eating once a day on two or three potatoes, and then sleeping only three hours a night. His fervent prayer was: “ Lord send me any suffering but save the souls of my parishioners.”
Let us pray that we would be imbued with the spirit of the saints and undertake in our lives fervent prayer but also fasting. Let us fast in this life so as to feast forever with God in heaven for all eternity!