I concede that it would be better if we were entirely internally motivated and were not behaving simply out of obedience to Church rules when we do good works. I wish that I were more internally motivated to do a lot of things. I’ve always been the kind of person who is very high-achieving and well-behaved when there is someone/something imposing requirements on me. I respond well to rules and threats of consequences. I work well under pressure and with a deadline looming. But I’m not as good at doing something just because it’s what’s best. I confess, this is because I have an undisciplined will. It’s difficult for me to say no to myself when I can’t see the immediate consequences of saying yes. This is a weakness in my character and spiritual development, but being motivated by rules and consequences is still a praiseworthy step on the way to peak moral development – doing things solely out of love for God.
The Catholic Church understands this. Even if it’s not the highest good to do something because you were told to doesn’t mean it’s not a good at all. Whether I fast because I independently choose to or because the Church told me to, I can still reap the spiritual benefits of fasting. I will experience the discomfort of hunger pangs, and that little bit of suffering can remind me to turn my attention to the extraordinary suffering of Jesus on the Cross and unite myself to him there. Hopefully I will think about how my own sins led to Jesus’ suffering on the Cross, and offer back my small amount of suffering in reparation. I may think about the people who go hungry every day because of a lack of resources, and become more motivated to serve those in need with my time and money. All of this spiritual growth can happen because the Church told me that I had to fast and I did so out of obedience.
Abstaining from meat on Fridays and giving up other pleasures during Lent are also forms of fasting, but these practices can seem even more pointless or confusing to some. How does not eating meat or candy help us to grow closer to God, especially if we are giving them up because it’s a Church-imposed season? The truth is that it probably won’t, unless we feel some degree of deprivation when we forego them, and unless we have the proper attitude while we are doing it. Many of us today do not ever have to experience deprivation of any physical comfort. We have everything we need and a whole lot more, and we tend to fill any kind of void that we feel with temporal pleasures (like coffee or chocolate). This experience of always being satisfied — never feeling physical deprivation — can mask our spiritual deprivation, our need for God. Therefore, one benefit of allowing ourselves to feel even a small amount of deprivation from giving up a simple pleasure like sweets is that it makes us more able to recognize what we are lacking in our souls and turn to God, instead of something physical, to fill the void.
She's not quite done and think it'd be filling to finish with her.
I have been fasting on Fridays for some time now, limiting my intake on that day to just one meatless meal and a protein smoothie, a very small way to attempt to keep in focus my need, deep need, for God. And for Lent this year, I'm giving up wine, chocolate and coffee as I attempt, again in tiny ways, to overcome so much of life that distracts me from deeper things.
I would encourage others to fast in some way regularly, and not just during Lent, to test to see if your yearning for, you understanding of, God increases.
I believe and trust that it will.