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October 9, 1987     The Message
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October 9, 1987
 

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Faith Today Supplement, The Message, Catholic Diocese of Evansville, October 9, 1987 " 1 ; Faith Todav i A ,t m tholk: newpe publL by NATIONAL CATHOUC NEWS SERVICE m 1312 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005. with jt oe The C@:hohc Chur:h Ex"rEN@ION soc,ew 35 Eost Wo(:ef [., 0:, IIliris 60601 1 contents cop,/ht t987 by NC News .k:e. 4 Dick Gregory Dorothy Day Mitch Snyder Ben Kingsley as Gandhi Fasting ,is a social activity By Father Herbert Weber NC News Service L aura was a graduate stu- dent when she decided to become a Catholic. She asked another stu- dent, Susan, to be her sponsor in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program. They began attending the Monday even- ing sessions together. Soon the two women decided to fast all day Monday in prepara- tion for the evening gathering. Afterthe session, they regularly made a ritual of "breaking the fast" and discussed the week's topic. Although I usually didn't fast with them, I often joined in the late night minifeast. The week before Easter when Laura was to enter the church, she joined Susan and me in breaking the Monday fast for a final time. They began to discuss what fasting had come to mean to them. Laura confided that during some family struggles over her decision, she now seemed to have an inner strength. Susan added that the fasting kept her hungering for more of the Lord's word. Both indicated that fasting together gave them a sense of solidarity that went beyond words. I found myself wishing I had been part of their pact to fast! DDD The experience of Susan and Laura is  reminder that fasting can be alanguage of faith --a way to express faith -- that goes beyond words and touches people in a tangible way. Fasting is a way to open oneself up to receive the Spirit. Perhaps because eating is so much a part of life, controlling what is consumed has to have an impact on a person This impact is both spiritual and physical. More and more people are lear- ning that their eating behavior is intricately connected with their inner health and sense of emo- tional equilibrium. A man whose wife had just left him told me that he had no desire to eat. A woman, faced with lots of family strife and work pressures, added pounds quickly because she ate so much junk food. And a. number of college students learned that their eating disorders were associated with personal and family problems. Eating is a +human activity that connects one's external life with internal happenings. Maybe that is why abstaining from food is an action that touches one's inner faith life. Foregoing food is a physical reminder that something else is of greater importance. 7q71 In the pastoral letter "The Challenge of Peace," the U.S. bishops followed their statements on the need for prayer and penance in face of the nuclear arms race by pledging to fast on Fridays as a "tangible sign of our need and desire to do penance." The small pain of withholding food indicates that humanity itself is hungering for a better way to live and everyone suffers until peace is brought about. Becoming peacemakers requires an inner conversion; fasting helps us to make that change of heart. Fasting also can become a bridge that connects people. Often inner conversion does not take place independently of others' in- fluence. A tremendous strength comes from working with someone else for a similar goal. In one parish, a small group of Fasting is no stranger to this age. In recent history Gandhi fasted for peace, Dick Gregory for the release of American hostages In Iran, MItch Snyder on behalf of the homeless, Dorothy Day in solidarity with the poor. But less dramatically, ordinary Christians today are discovering great value in this ancient practice. They find that fasting can be a powerful way to create bonds between people, to express their hunger for o better way to live and to keep them open to the work- ings of the Spirit. staff people decided to choose one day a week for communal fasting. They knew that the parish, which had gone through turmoil the previous year, would need much prayer for a new beginning. Before long, others in the parish joined the staff in the Wednesday fast. The sense of uni- ty Created became a foundation for real spiritual growth. Others who fast desire it to be a form of solidarity with those who suffer from hunger in other places. When Mike's friends began working in a Tonga misgion in Zimbabwe where there would be little or no meat to eat, he decid- ed to limit the amount of meat that he would have. Although he remained in a land of plenty for the next two years, he was at one with his friends far away. His abstinence also helped him make a decision to join in the others' mission. In a Garfield cartoon, Jim Davis has the fat cat say, "Eating is social, but when you diet you diet alone." Perhaps many people have relegated fasting to that same unattractive position as dieting: fasting seems to empty one in- stead of fill one up; it is a reminder of what needs to be changed rather than of what can be celebrated. But precisely because fasting takes a person away from the ban- quet table, it opens that person to the workings of the Spirit in life. (Father Weber is pastor of St. Thomas More University Parish in Bowling Green, Ohio.)