The faithful practice of fasting contributes . . . to conferring unity to the whole person, body and soul, helping to avoid sin and grow in intimacy with the Lord.
St. Augustine, who knew all too well his own negative impulses, defining them as “twisted and tangled knottiness” (Confessions, II, 10.18), writes: “I will certainly impose privation, but it is so that he will forgive me, to be pleasing in his eyes, that I may enjoy his delightfulness” (Sermo 400, 3, 3: PL 40, 708). Denying material food, which nourishes our body, nurtures an interior disposition to listen to Christ and be fed by his saving word. Through fasting and praying, we allow him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God.
At the same time, fasting is an aid to open our eyes to the situation in which so many of our brothers and sisters live. In his first letter, St. John admonishes: “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet shuts up his bowels of compassion from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). Voluntary fasting enables us to grow in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, who bends low and goes to the help of his suffering brother (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 15). By freely embracing an act of self-denial for the sake of another, we make a statement that our brother or sister in need is not a stranger.
It is precisely to keep alive this welcoming and attentive attitude toward our brothers and sisters that I encourage the parishes and every other community to intensify in Lent the custom of private and communal fasts, joined to the reading of the word of God, prayer, and almsgiving. From the beginning this has been the hallmark of the Christian community, in which special collections were taken up (cf. 2 Corinthians 8–9; Romans 15:25-27), the faithful being invited to give to the poor what had been set aside from their fast (Didascalia Ap., V, 20, 18). This practice needs to be rediscovered and encouraged again in our day, especially during the liturgical season of Lent.
—Message for Lent 2009
This is a selection from Lent with Pope Benedict XVI: Meditations for Every Day (The Word Among Us Press, 2012). Available at wau.org/books