Bishop Schlert's Lenten Letter: Fasting Deepens Our Spiritual Relationship with God

14 February 2024

Ash Wednesday

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As we journey through the sacred seasons of our faith, none is more rigorous than the Holy Season of Lent. During this time, the Church urges us to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

In my Lenten Letter this year, I would like to reflect with you on the practice of fasting. Already by the second century, fasting was integrated into the lifestyle of Christians. Fasting is not merely an ancient ritual but a timeless discipline that deepens our spiritual relationship with God.

In this act of self-denial, we emulate Christ's sacrifice and cultivate virtues such as humility and temperance. Fasting redirects our focus from worldly desires to the eternal truths of our faith, fostering a spirit of prayer, holiness, and charity.

In the New Testament, Jesus fasts forty days and nights in the desert, modeling for us the forty-day period of Lent. When Jesus’ disciples were disappointed because they could not cast out a certain evil spirit, He told them that “only prayer and fasting can cast this kind out, nothing else can.” (Mark 9:29).

Because the very life and teaching of Our Lord exemplify the practice of fasting, we can conclude that a spirit of denial is integral to the life of a Christian and the overcoming of the Evil One. Saint Athanasius wrote, “Devils take great delight in fullness and drunkenness, and bodily comfort. Fasting possesses great power and it works glorious things. To fast is to banquet with angels.”

When we fast, we deny ourselves legitimate things so that we can master our cravings instead of being driven by them. The spiritual purpose of fasting should not be linked to the desire — which can be commendable for health reasons — to lose weight. Spiritually, fasting is linked to a desire for penance which in turn focuses our attention more clearly on prayer and the overcoming of sin.

Fasting is also a path of solidarity with the less fortunate, which leads to the Lenten practice of almsgiving/good works. It is a reminder of the hunger for justice in our world, especially in our time of disrespect for human life, of growing marginalization between people, and of multi-national conflicts. Let us, then, courageously approach the discipline of fasting with sincerity, seeking spiritual renewal and a closer union with the suffering Christ.

During this Lenten season, may we embrace fasting not as a burden, but as a transformative spiritual journey. By willingly surrendering certain comforts, we can open our hearts to God's grace and allow His love to fill the void left by material indulgence.

May God's grace guide us through this Holy Season of fasting, leading us to a richer, more profound experience of His love and mercy as we “banquet with Angels” in preparation for a joyous Easter.

Devotedly yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Alfred A. Schlert

Bishop of Allentown

For the Church’s regulations on fasting and abstinence, please click here.


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