Just over a year ago I was still living a life of hedonism, iniquity and the nihilistic, numbing pursuit of pleasure. But I was saved by God through a combination of religious experience and two years of careful thought and evaluation. I looked at the world around me, and my life, and realised all roads lead to Rome.
Turning one’s life around from sin to holiness is like trying to turn an oil tanker around. Recently I was watching a Jason Evert video and he recommended the e5 Men fasting challenge: 24 hours of only bread and water. This could be offered up to your future wife — God willing that’s what God has in mind for me but perhaps not — and also as a way to atone for the women in your past you have hurt. Given the wreckage I had left in my wake I decided this would be good.
So on the first Wednesday of February I ate only bread and drank only water for 24 hours. The only other fast I had done before was not eating until midday. It was difficult but I learnt some valuable lessons.
Appreciate What You Have
Although my life has had considerable suffering I have never gone without food. I have always had clothes, a roof over my head and food on the table. I have never been able to understand what it must be like to be hungry constantly and how infuriating it must be to be struggling to put food on the table, or to be on the streets, and to see well-heeled people like myself complaining about our lot in life.
Whilst it is unwise to merely dismiss genuine instances of hardship with ‘it could be worse’ gratitude and awareness of one’s blessing is vital to a healthy psychological state and a healthy relationship with God. I love bacon, sausage and egg sandwiches and I love tea and that evening as I was lying in bed absolutely ravenous I was daydreaming about having a bacon sandwich. The grease, toasted bread and brown sauce danced and tantalised in my mind as Barry White played in the background.
Accordingly, the first thing I did to break my fast was to go and buy a sausage and egg sandwich — there was no bacon — and I inhaled it in about 20 seconds. I then made a cup of tea and quite literally kissed the mug the beautiful, brown nectar was being cradled in and probably veered far too close to idolatry as I cooed ‘tea, tea, glorious tea.’
It was the best cup of tea and sandwich I had ever had purely because the day of fasting had caused me to remember just how lucky I am. Life gets us down — perhaps a relationship has soured or work is boring — but if we want to have true Christian joy we must be grateful for the blessings God has bestowed on us, despite our overwhelming wretchedness.
Fasting and Chastity Go Hand in Hand
I’m 25 years old and I’m male so no prizes for anyone who guesses the sin I struggle most with. When I converted I vowed I would not have sex before marriage — if, indeed, I get married — and this vow has not been broken. However, once a certain genie is out of the bottle it is much harder to smuggle it back in and I have days when I am biting my cheeks, clenching my jaw, going for massive walks, going to the gym — anything to take my mind off that area of life.
However, when fasting all those thoughts dissipate. When your mind is trained on hunger and the weakness of the body the last thing you will be doing is having lustful thoughts. Going to bed thinking ‘I’m starving’ and ‘can’t wait for a bacon sandwich tomorrow’ is much better for the soul.
Fasting Leads to Prayer
‘It is simply impossible to lead, without the aid of prayer, a virtuous life,’ said Saint John Chrysostom. Prayer is the fundamental aspect of the Christian life. Without prayer your relationship with God shrivels up and dies. You wouldn’t expect to sustain a marriage without talking every day, nor a relationship with siblings and parents without regular contact, so why would God be any different? I have been praying the rosary every day for a year or so now and the difference in the way I relate to God is marked. Whereas before I felt a constant instability and indecision I now feel loved, content and peaceful. A friend of mine, an agnostic with ‘respect for religion,’ looked at me like I was an alien when I told him I had conviction. The culture we live in has left everything up for grabs and most young people are confused.
When you have an empty stomach that jabs at your consciousness it reminds you of the minor sacrifice you are making and for Whom you are making it: God. Each rumble turns the mind skyward. Fasting weakens us and makes us humble and it is humility that brings us on our knees to the Lord who takes our sufferings in his hands and turns it into something beautiful.
The virtues, like the vices, are cyclical and the more virtues you practice the more virtuous you become. Fasting should be a cornerstone of every Catholic’s spiritual life as it once was. Being a Catholic in this world we live in is very difficult so we need to use all the weapons in our arsenal.
The More You Give God the More He Gives You
Human beings have a terrible tendency to over-complicate things. I do it myself. Where honesty and transparency would suffice we go to great lengths to try and say things through hints and meaningful silences but it is not the way to be.
Our relationship with God is similarly simple: if you put a lot of effort into Him then he will reward you abundantly. The graces God will give you will take your breath away and make you do things you didn’t think were possible and feel such a sense of bliss and happiness that you will kick yourself for not coming crawling to Him sooner. He is patient and He is waiting for us all and all you need to do is show him that you care.
Although my day of fasting was very difficult and I was hungry, lethargic and tired, today the sun is shining, I have food in my belly and I feel grateful — and what greater gift is there than that? The two virtues I wanted most to work on this year were patience and gratitude and by offering up a day of minor mortification God has given me a taste of what it will be like to be further reconciled with Him. Bliss.
I hope that I have demonstrated to you the abundant grace, joy and holiness that one day of fasting has given me. It brought me closer to God and gave me a taste of what it would be like to have true, everlasting gratitude for God and the life I have been gifted.
If you are in any way tempted to fast then I strongly recommend you do so. You don’t have to throw yourself into the deep end and can start off small but the joy you feel as you wrap your lips around that bacon sandwich you were craving will make it worth it and you will look towards the heavens and say: ‘Thank you Lord.’