In his message for Lent 2009, Pope Benedict XVI describes fasting as a spiritual weapon. With numerous citations from the Bible and early Church fathers, the Pope's message can teach us a lot about the meaning and power of fasting.
Read: The Pope’s message for Lent 2009
There are five study questions based on his message:
1. What is symbolized by Lent lasting 40 days, including prayer and fasting? What does this recall from salvation history?
2. Was Jesus the first person in the Bible to fast in preparation for something? Who else fasted? When?
3. How long of a history does fasting have in? What did St. Basil note was the very first time people were instructed to fast?
4a. Is fasting primarily about building Christian community? About us all sharing something difficult together and growing as people? Is it primarily about cleansing our bodies and getting healthy? What does Jesus say in Matthew 6:18 that bears on the subject?
4b. What did St. Augustine write as his reason for fasting (privation)?
5. What other things does the Holy Father especially think of as ways to nourish our souls and cast aside spiritual distractions?
1. In this message, Pope Benedict XVI explains that "Lent recalls the forty days of our Lord’s fasting in the desert, which He undertook before entering into His public ministry."
2. The Holy Father identifies "Moses, who fasted before receiving the tablets of the Law (cf. Ex 34,28) and Elijah’s fast before meeting the Lord on Mount Horeb (cf. 1 Kings 19,8)".
3. "Saint Basil observes that 'fasting was ordained in Paradise,' and 'the first commandment in this sense was delivered to Adam.'" Fasting goes back to the beginning of human history, to Eden.
4a. Pope Benedict XVI teaches us that the true purpose of fasting is "to do the will of the Heavenly Father, who “sees in secret, and will reward you” (Mt 6,18)." While there are additional benefits, we shouldn't forget about this greatest reason.
4b. St. Augustine wrote that he fasted "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)
5. He specifically names "a greater commitment to prayer, lectio divina, recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and active participation in the Eucharist, especially the Holy Sunday Mass" as ways to nourish ourselves spiritually.