Fasting is something that Catholics typically define as limiting our food intake. You know, the ole “one full meal and two smaller meals” rule. And many Catholics leave it at that. Just meet the obligation on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and you’re good to go. Check the box. Done.
Let’s take a step back and ask: What is the point of fasting? Fr. Dwight Longenecker puts it this way, “We fast so that we might correct our distorted and destructive attachment to physical things. We fast to order our desires, not to obliterate them. We fast so that we might learn the true meaning of detachment.”
In traditional fasting, we give up some of a good thing (often food) in order to gain a greater good, detachment, and order among our desires. That detachment allows us to rise about the goods of the physical world to experience the peace and joy of the greater spiritual goods. It also helps us to partake of God’s creation in the proper time and in the proper way.
How does fasting connect to the coronavirus?
In these days, we are bombarded with reminders of coronavirus pandemic and its effects from the web, emails, TV, radio, and newspapers. Organizations are reaching out to inform and reassure us. There is good in these communications.
Nevertheless, all of this information is overstimulating to most of us, jarring our tired neurons to fire again and again. If you skim a ton of information about the virus with all sorts of ominous overtones and don’t have the time and space to be reflective, it’s like eating a huge meal and not being able to digest it.
An overload of coronavirus information can often lead to emotional ups and downs, foggy thinking, internal tension, and a sense of depletion in which we feel tired and overwrought. Our endocrine system can’t handle the chronic state of alert without wearing down, and we can suffer adrenal fatigue and other bodily symptoms. The bottom line is that we can’t process all that upsetting information well when we are in a state of agitation, and it wears us down mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.
Some of us may feel that we need that information to keep ourselves and others safe and to plan for the future. And we do. But for many of us, we go overboard. It is easy overindulge and even binge on the news and the opinions.
In our day and age of 24-hour information-on-demand, we all need regular respites from the coronavirus updates and reminders.
Consider setting a time, place and limit to keep up with the latest announcements that can affect you and your family’s life, but then fast from the rest of the information. Set an alarm for how long you are going to consume the information.
Then, be sure to set aside more time afterward to think about what you read, to pray about it, and to do any planning. This will help you "digest" and process the information to be useful.
Being deliberate about your coronavirus updates and news consumption will help you maintain God’s presence in your day, decrease distractions in prayer, reduce overall stress and anxiety, and assist you in living out your daily vocation. It will help you have the detachment you need to rise about the physical world and connect more deeply in the spiritual life. Experiment with deliberate fasting, and see what works for you.