I’m poor at fasting from food. Hunger doesn’t make me holy, it makes me crabby. So for now, I have to admit my weakness and look elsewhere for how to practice the second pillar of Lent: fasting.
My pastor gave us a great idea from the Church fathers: the benefit of fasting from the five senses. This made fasting seem more do-able.
We can think of fasting as healing. And we can be scientific about it—by asking through which of our five senses we most often sin.
We start by prayerfully picking one sense that needs healing, that needs to be more aligned with God’s will. For example, if we’ve been exposing our ears to gossip in the office or insult humor on television, it will likely cause us to sin by pride because it puts us above others in our own mind. Misuse of our ears may also cause a lack of charity, or impatience, as when we indulge in podcasts that tell us everything we should be “against.” Whatever the sin our ears cause us to commit, fast from that activity, avoiding gossip and turning off programs that are seeped in sarcasm, blame, and anger.
Here’s the great benefit. In the space left by clearing away what causes sinful behavior, we’ll free our ears to “hear” Jesus in others and in our own thoughts. Our “clean” ears can now allow God to heal our sense of hearing, so we can use our ears as he intended. We will start to “hear” others’ need for encouragement, their need for a good word—their need to be reminded that they are children of God, loved more than they can imagine. We will stop blaming people. We will begin doing God’s work by our senses!
At the very least, we’ll be able to bear what is unbearable about others with a heart open to the mystery of sin, of human weakness, which is always a healthy reminder of our own weakness.
Or if our eyes are watching programs or visiting web sites that lead us to sin (think shopping channel or pornography), we can give our eyes a fast from those places. The result is striking: we now allow Jesus into the empty space left by fasting so he can heal our eyes. Our eyes will start seeing Jesus in the Eucharist, in our spouse and co-workers, and in the poor.
I love this positive way of fasting that looks toward giving up what we know is not good for us to make room for God in our senses and ultimately in our intentions and the desires of our hearts. Father closed by saying, “What is the biggest wound caused by your senses? It is the very place God will say ‘That is the place where I will redeem you and bring forth new life.’”