Earlier this week, the Ignatian spiritual exercises I’ve been doing had me contemplate the events immediately following the Baptism of Christ: his retreat into the desert to fast, and then be tempted by Satan. A few things struck me while I was praying and I just wanted to share them with you.
I thought it was interesting that in the accounts of all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), this event is placed immediately following the Baptism of the Lord. Jesus went immediately from the waters of the Jordan into the desert and fasted. Scripture subtly, but strongly, links fasting to baptism. For us, baptism is the beginning of the Christian life (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Romans 6:3-6, Galatians 3:27, 1 Peter 3:20-22), and so it follows by the example that is set by Christ by his going immediately from baptism into fasting, that fasting flows directly from the heart of what it is to be a Christian.
But why is fasting important? If we look at Jesus’ example as told by Matthew, it was after fasting that Jesus, in his human will, was engaged by the devil and able to resist the temptations. In following Christ’s example, we will find in our own fasting the strength to enter into spiritual battle and win. In our own denial of our sensual passions in prayer and fasting we meet Christ and grow strong against evil.
And so while I will refrain from using words like obligation and requirement in regards to fasting which goes beyond what the Church obliges us to (Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and the Communion Fast), we really ought to employ fasting as one of our regular spiritual practices if we are serious about conquering sin and cultivating holiness. We may choose to fast on a certain day(s) of the week or we may choose to fast before making particularly important decisions, but in any case, it is important for each of us to consider the significance of fasting, and following Jesus into the practice, and to fast well when we do (Matthew 6:16-18).
If you would like to read more on fasting, check out this Lenten message (I know, wrong liturgical season) from Fr. Benedict (Pope Benedict XVI) in 2008.