and Conversion of HEART
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message of repentance and conversion is always directed first to our
hearts: “Rend your hearts and not your garments,” says the prophet
Joel to us (Joel 2:12-18). This is the passage of Scriptures that
we hear in the first reading of Ash Wednesday.
we see in the prophets, the call of Jesus to conversion and to
penance does not attend, primarily to exterior acts, ‘to the
sackcloth and ashes,’ to fasting and mortifications, but to the
conversion of heart, to inner penance. Without it, the works of
penance remain sterile and deceiving; on the contrary, interior
conversion inspires one to the expression of this attitude by means
of visible signs, gestures and works of penance” (Catechism of the
Catholic Church, #1430).
Conversion is the change of heart. If this change is authentic, it
ought to manifest itself in all areas of our lives, since it is the
heart that moves our decisions, actions, sentiments and
dispositions. The heart is the interior throne of the human
person. All interior reality must necessarily manifest itself in
the exterior. God revealed His love for us by sending His only Son
in the mystery of the Incarnation. “The Word became flesh.” This
is how our lives must be: conversion must have a concrete expression
that is incarnated in each area of our lives. Conversion is not
only about saying, “Lord, Lord” with our mouths, but it is saying
that our entire lives, minds, hearts, talents, gifts, capacities and
body belong to the Lord and are for His glory. Sincere conversion
is to change the interests of our hearts; it is to no longer live
for our own desires, which is contrary to the Gospel: “Who ever
wants to follow me, let him deny himself” (Mark 8:34).
are created with body and soul. The necessary purification of our
interior for the conversion of our hearts must also necessarily take
place in our bodies, senses, thoughts, actions, habits. Interior
penance, the tearing of the heart, must have external expressions
and therefore lead us to a growth in grace in all of our being. All
things must be integrated and ordered by grace, with our cooperation
through prayer and penance.
The Church teaches us that there are three
traditional expressions of penance. These are fasting, prayer
and almsgiving. These three are mentioned by Jesus in the
Gospel of St. Matthew (6:1-6, 16-18), which is precisely the Gospel
of Ash Wednesday. Fasting, prayer and almsgiving remind us that
conversion includes all of the aspects of our life: “they
express conversion in relation to ourselves, to God and to others” (CCC,
this conference I want to dedicate myself specifically to fasting,
which is so necessary in order to grow in self-control, in
moderation of our appetites, and in opening ourselves to spiritual
realities and eternal nourishment.
is the practice of limiting the amount of food and water received in
order to imitate the sufferings of Christ during His passion and
throughout His earthly life. Fasting reminds us that conversion
affects and ought to affect all areas of our lives.
Fasting as a Part of the Jewish Tradition
we examine the Old Testament, we can see that fasting played an
important role in Jewish life and tradition:
Leviticus 16: 29-30.
The Lord orders a day of fasting as expiation and purification for
their sins: “you will fast… for in that day there will be expiation
done you in order to purify you.”
Fasting is a sign of repentance: “Return to me with your whole
heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning.”
Fasting is a preparation for the manifestations which are to come.
Moses spent forty days and forty nights on Mount Sinai without
eating bread or drinking water. After this, he received the new
Tablets of the Law.
Fasting has intercessory power: “I had spent these other forty days
and forty nights on the mountain, and the LORD had once again heard
me and decided not to destroy you.”
Jonah 3:7. In
the face of the future destruction of Nineveh, the people did
fasting and penance.
Faced with an unjust persecution, David fasted and did penance.
In order to receive the help of the Lord, the psalmist fasted until
he was weak in the knees.
Before the threats of Nebuchadnezzar, the Israelites offered
praises, prayers, penance and fasting. The Lord heard their voices
and saw their anguish because of it.
Esther told Mordecai: “Go and assemble all the Jews who are in
Susa; fast on my behalf, all of you, not eating or drinking, night
or day, for three days. I and my maids will also fast in the same
way. Thus prepared, I will go to the king, contrary to the law. If I
perish, I perish!” (Esther was about to go before the king in
defense of her people who were condemned to death. She was going to
unmask the enemy. It almost seems like the petition of the Virgin
of Fatima, who appears with a star on her mantle. Esther means
Fasting in the New Testament
Matthew 4, Luke 4.
We see Jesus in the desert praying without eating or drinking
anything for forty days.
Jesus drove out an unclean spirit that his disciples were not able
to drive out. When asked why they were not able, he replied, “This
kind can only be cast out by prayer and fasting.”
Luke 2: 37.
“Ana never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting
“The community, after having prayed and fasted, laid hands on them
and sent them off.”
“They appointed presbyters for them in each church and, with prayer
and fasting, commended them to the Lord.”
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am
filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of
his body, which is the church.”
1 Cor 9:25.
“Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win
a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.”
“For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit
against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may
not do what you want.”
The Temptations in the Desert
important passage for us to meditate is Matthew 4: the temptations
in the desert. Within it we find many teachings that are necessary
for the spiritual life. I will concentrate on those which I
consider demonstrate the importance of fasting.
Jesus receives Baptism and the Holy Spirit descends upon Him, and a
voice is heard which says, “This is my beloved Son.” All of this is
a beautiful and very spiritual experience. Immediately, that same
Spirit takes Him into the desert (a solitary place, dry, dangerous
and without any provisions at all) to be tempted by the devil. The
desert is necessary so that the Lord can do great things in us. He
has always revealed Himself to His people in an extraordinary ways
during times of desert, and He has always prepared His people for
the mission during the times of desert. But precisely because of
this, the devil also wages a great battle in the desert in order to
place obstacles in front of what God wants to do.
Jesus prepares Himself for this battle with prayer and fasting for
forty days and nights. How do we prepare ourselves for the battle
that our lives wage in the contemporary world? We prepare ourselves
with prayer and fasting. When we feel greater temptations, we must
pray and fast more.
Israelites were freed from Egypt and were taken to the desert
towards the Promise Land. After just a short time of having left
Egypt and of walking through the desert, their resources were
depleting. Then they began to rebel against Moses and their first
complaint was about their hunger and thirst, and they demanded that
God provide for them. The Lord did the miracle of the manna, and
had water come out from the rock when Moses struck it with his
Jesus fasted in the desert, and with His fasts, He made reparation
for the complaints and injuries the Israelites made in the desert
Jesus feels hunger (a human reality) and here the devil takes
advantage of it in order to throw out his first temptation and
seduction: “If you are the Son of God, turn these rocks into
bread.” Jesus replies: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by
every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Deut. 8:3).
devil is not able to make Jesus fall even though He was hungry
because, through His fasting, He had placed His need to satisfy His
hunger and His physical gratification in second place. Through
fasting, we dominate this area so that when the temptation comes to
us, we can resist it.
does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the
mouth of the God.” Jesus responds by making reference to
Deuteronomy 8. This is a characteristic of Christ, to show us that
to fulfill the will of God gives more life than that which we can
receive by eating. This response of Christ reveals to us what those
forty days were: there was no bread or water, but there was a
profound communication with the Father. This is more important than
anything else: to not seek food outside of the will of God. The
appetites that we seek to dominate are varied: those of the body,
those of the emotions, those stemming from our sexuality, those of
the mind, those that desire to feed our ego, those that seek fame
and recognition, etc.
(because He feels hunger): He is taken to the pinnacle of the temple
and is told, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it
is written: your angels will come to your rescue, they will carry
you in their hands so that your foot will not stumble upon any
stone.” Jesus tells him, “It is also written, you shall not tempt
the Lord your God” (Deut. 6:16).
devil is tempting Jesus to dishonor the Father’s protection and to
take control of things outside of obedience to God. It was the
temptation of personal satisfaction: of being served by the angels,
of being protected by them so that nothing would happen to Him.
Jesus is tempted in this area after having fasted; could this be
because fasting has the power to free us from our egos, to free us
from our desire to be served and honored?
(because He feels hunger): He is taken to a very high mountain and
is shown all the kingdoms of the world and is told, “I will give you
all of this if you prostrate yourself before me in adoration.”
Jesus responds, “Get away from me satan, for it is written: the Lord
your God you will adore and give worship to” (Deut 6:13). The devil
tempts Him towards earthly power and fame. Could it be that fasting
liberates us from these desires? Could it be that when we
experience our weakness, emptiness, and need in fasting we recognize
that we are creatures, dependant on God, and thus are freed from the
great temptation to adore false gods (including ourselves)?
three temptations in the desert were directed towards pleasure,
power and fame. The three were presented during the forty days of
prayer and fasting. The three were overcome with the contrary
virtues: denial, total submission to God and His Word, and
humility. These three virtues are the fruits of fasting.
Old Testament reveals to us the power of fasting over our external
enemies; the New Testament also reveals to us the power it has to
overcome the enemies of our soul: the flesh, the devil and the
Fruits of Fasting
Fasting is not an end in itself, but a means to conversion. Why is
It induces us to liberty of mind and heart,
taking us through a process in which we are freed from earthly
attachments and all those things that keep us bound:
willfulness, desires, excessive self-preservation, etc.
Furthermore, it leads us to peace.
It strengthens and stabilizes us and develops
self-control, which is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
It helps us to recognize our weakness and
dependence on God.
makes us poor in spirit.
It edifies our interior life.
It eliminates the excesses of our life in order
to make more room for God.
Fasting leads us more readily towards a life of inner union with God
and with the Heavenly world; fasting frees us from the burdens and
attachments of material things. The saints recommend fasting to all
those who desire to achieve greater interiority. Fasting
debilitates, little by little, our concupiscence.
Fasting and the Word of God
does not live by bread along, but by every word that comes from the
mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
food is to do the will of the one who has sent me and to fulfill His
work” (John 4:32).
day of fasting ought to be a day of profound prayer, meditation of
the Scriptures and the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church,
thereby enriching our minds by finding our food and satisfaction in
the Truth. Fasting permits our souls to be filled with the Word
that is life, that frees us and that elevates us and teaches us to
think, feel and act according to the will of God. On days of
fasting, I have found, for some reason, that it is easier to
penetrate into the Scriptures, to meditate on them and to more
profoundly capture the message that is hidden behind its words.
When we fast, we give priority to the soul.
Fasting and the Eucharist
“Work not for the food that perishes but for the food that endures
for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:27).
fasting, we discover the emptiness of earthly realities and the true
food of the Eucharist. The physical emptiness that we experience in
fasting helps us to become more aware of our interior emptiness and
our need for spiritual realities. In a preeminent manner, a day of
fasting ought to be a Eucharistic day: one of adoration, reparation,
Bread and Water?
message of Our Lady of Medjugorje on August 14, 1984 (the day that
Saint Maximilian was condemned to death by starvation in the
concentration camp of Auschwitz) was, “Fast on Wednesdays and
Fridays on bread and water.”
Bread is the food of the poor. The disposition to live on bread and
water for a day demonstrates the good will one has to be poor before
God and well-disposed to His will.
Bread and water: two important symbols in the Scriptures
Bread: It symbolizes life, nourishment (Bread, food – Eucharist).
Water: It symbolizes purification (from His pierced Heart flows
water, symbolizing baptism).
These are also the two miracles that the Lord did with the
Israelites while they were in the desert.
must seek true life by means of purification. Fasting on bread and
water is a call to grow in dependence on the Eucharist. It is also
a call to enter into a life of purification, of conversion, of
stripping ourselves of all that separates us from the Lord or does
not allow us to be His adoptive sons or His image and likeness.
am the bread of life, he who comes to me will not hunger, he who
believes in me will not thirst” (John 6:34).
We Have Heard the Blessed Virgin Call
Us to Fasting:
In Medjugorje, Our Lady has given us
the following messages:
“Your fasting has the power to
prevent wars and natural catastrophes.”
“Practice fasting because with fasting you will obtain the complete
realization of the plan that God has. With this you will make me
“I invite you to prayer and fasting.
With your help I can do all things and obligate satan to no longer
“Pray and fast, only in this manner you will be able to know what is
evil within you and to offer it to God with the hope that He will
purify your hearts of all things.”
“That kind can only be cast out with
prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29).
His Holiness John Paul II
spoke on the need to fast to weaken the “spirit of death and the
culture of death”:
repeat what I said to those families who carry out their challenging
mission amid so many difficulties: a great prayer for life is
urgently needed, a prayer which will rise up throughout the world.
Through special initiatives and in daily prayer, may an impassioned
plea rise to God, the Creator and lover of life, from every
Christian community, from every group and association, from every
family and from the heart of every believer. Jesus himself has shown
us by his own example that prayer and fasting are the first and most
effective weapons against the forces of evil (cf. Mt 4:1-11). As he
taught his disciples, some demons cannot be driven out except in
this way (cf. Mk 9:29). Let us therefore discover anew the humility
and the courage to pray and fast so that power from on high will
break down the walls of lies and deceit: the walls which conceal
from the sight of so many of our brothers and sisters the evil of
practices and laws which are hostile to life. May this same power
turn their hearts to resolutions and goals inspired by the
civilization of life and love” (Evangelium Vitae, 100).
Fasting Appeases Gluttony
fasting we learn to dominate ourselves and to free ourselves from
the sin of gluttony, which does not only manifest itself in
excessive eating, but also in more refined and spiritual forms.
Intellectual gluttony: this is an uncontrolled desire in the
areas of knowledge (curiosity) of science. This is very dangerous
because it was the first sin of Eve: curiosity. From here comes
sins of the occult, psychics, astrology, the reading of hands, a
desire to know the future, etc.
Spiritual gluttony: this is a seeking of sentiments that
come from pious reading and sensible pleasures. It is also not
wanting to miss out on any spiritual experience.
Gluttony of pleasure, honor or fame: this is when one does
anything in order to have attention, to be recognized, etc.
Fast Not Only from Food
Saint John Chrysostom said,
value of fasting consists not only on avoiding certain foods, but of
renouncing to all attitudes, thoughts and sinful desires. Whoever
limits fasting simply to food is minimizing the great value that
fasting has. If you fast, prove it in your actions! If you see a
brother in need, have compassion on him. If you see a brother
receiving recognition, do not envy him. For fasting to be true, it
cannot be so only in our mouths, it must be a fasting of our eyes,
ears, feet, hands…of all our bodies, interior and exterior.
“Fast with your hands by keeping them pure in the disinterested
service of others. Fast in your feet by not being slow in love and
service. Fast with your eyes by not seeing impure things or by not
looking at others to criticize them. Fast of all that puts your
soul or your holiness in danger. It will be useless to deny my body
food while I am feeding my heart with waste, with impurity, with
selfishness, with competitions, with comfort.
fast of food, but you allow yourself to hear vain and worldly
things. You ought to also fast with your ears. You ought to fast
from hearing things that are said about your brothers, lies that are
said about others, especially gossip, rumors, cold words that are
hurtful and against others.
also ought to fast with your mouth; you ought to fast from saying
anything bad about others. For of what value is it for you do not
eat if you devour your brother?”
does St. John Chrysostom want to tell us with this reflection?
wants to tells us that the days of fasting ought to be special days
of abstaining from all disordered and exaggerated use of our
senses. This means that I should not look at what I should not; not
speak what I should not; not hear what I should not; not desire what
I should not; not seek satisfaction of my emotional or spiritual
needs; not seek to fill my loneliness by immediately seeking
companionship; not want to know everything; not seek immediate
answers to all that comes into my mind, etc.
fast seeking conversion. Therefore, we must fast from all of these
attitudes that are contrary to virtue. Perhaps your fasting will be
about being more serviceable (to fast from sloth or from comfort).
For just as the Blessed Virgin Mary asks us to pray with the heart,
we need to fast with our hearts. Maybe we need to fast from our
anger by being more amiable, more sweet and more docile on the days
we fast. Maybe I have to fast from pride by actively seeking to be
humbled and by doing concrete acts of humility.
Fasting and Bodily Purity
us listen to Cardinal Ratzinger:
fast means to accept an essential aspect of the Christian life. It
is necessary to rediscover again the corporal aspect of the Faith:
abstention from food is one of those aspects. Sexuality and
nourishment are among the fundamental elements of the physicality of
man. In our time, the decline in the understanding of virginity goes
hand in hand with the decline in the understanding of fasting. And
these two declines have a single root: the present-day eclipse of
the eschatological tension, which is to say, of the tension of the
Christian faith towards eternal life. Virginity and periodic
abstinence from food are meant to testify that eternal life awaits
us, indeed that it is already among us, and ‘the form of this world
passes away.’ Without virginity and without fasting, the Church is
no longer Church; she is assimilated to her historical
surroundings.” (cf. The Ratzinger Report, p. 113-114)
“Today more than ever, penance and mortification are necessary in
order to expiate our sins and to repair for those of the whole
world. Through the years, humanity has always been sinful, but it
recognized it and would do penance for this. Today this is not so;
one lives in sin and does not call it sin, but rather is proud of
it. All moral and ethical principals are being rejected and for
this reason humanity has lost its interior liberty and has become a
victim of the worse dictator: oneself and the devil” (cf. Cardinal
“Fasting as a common and public act of the Church, is so necessary
today as it was yesterday it seems to me; it is a public witness
both of the primacy of God and of the spiritual values such as
solidarity with all those who go hungry. If we do not fast we will
not be able to free ourselves of certain devils of our times” (cf.
Journey Towards Easter).
For this reason the Catechism of the Catholic Church
says, “The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no
holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. Spiritual
progress entails the ascesis and mortification that gradually lead
to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes”
Fasting and Charity
Fasting also cannot be separated from fraternal charity. If a
Christian would deny himself all things, it is in order to give it
to his brothers and be, therefore, a testimony of his love for God.
XII in 1950 said, “What removes vanity, the Christian will give in
charity and mercifully will give to the Church of the poor. This is
what the faithful of the primitive Church did: they nourished the
fountains of charity with fasting and abstinence of permissible
things.” Saint Augustine wrote, “Your denials will be fruitful if
you demonstrate patience with others.” Privations are Christian if
they make us grow in holiness, in charity and generosity.
the first Christian communities whenever there was a poor person
among them who needed to be helped, they would fast for two or three
days, and then send him nourishments that they had prepared for
themselves. The primitive Church observed two days of fasting during
the week: Wednesdays and Fridays.
In conclusion, if we are to making
fasting truly efficacious in our hearts and lives, it must be done
intending to bring forth an internal conversion and change of heart.
The denial or our bodily appetites must lead to a denial of our
sinful inclinations that arise from the disorder present in our
hearts. In this way, the renewal of fasting in our lives and in the
life of the Church should bring about an authentic spiritual renewal
as well. May we go forth embracing a spirit of penance and
mortification so as to transform our own hearts, and through them,
Let us respond to Our Lady’s call for
prayer, fasting, conversion and consecration to the Hearts of Jesus
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