Lent gives us the perfect time to step back and reconnect with Christ's perfect example of enduring a fast and temptation before even making one thought of entering into his public life of the Gospel. It's such a perfect time that I've swung 180 degrees from a few years ago when the thought of mandating a fast, frankly, was a very big turnoff for me. Now, it's harder to believe that the Church doesn't require us to fast on more than two days during Lent, let alone the entire liturgical year. This seems especially true in times like these, when the one-two punch of prayer and fasting are needed to combat the particular crises facing the Church and the world.
But what does it accomplish?
In short, as I wrote about in the previous post, fasting forces us out of the illusion that we can often be tempted to accept, that life is good as long as our temporal needs are satisfied. It seems to me that there's no coincidence that Lent takes place in the late winter and early spring, at the time when farmers are preparing their fields for the spring and summer crops. In a similar manner, we are called to "till" the soil of our souls, to allow the Spirit to renew and strengthen the presence of God dwelling and active within us by clearing out all of the "clutter" that life tends to collect inside our minds and hearts. We have a sublime opportunity to follow the soul's desire for rest and peace in our Exemplar and subjugate to it the body, whose natural desire is just the opposite: for motion and busyness. As Father Andre Louf noted in his reflection quoted in the February 24th Magnificat,
Want and satisfaction, hunger and satiety, each with its characteristic aspect of pain and pleasure, are constantly alternating.
The more the adult person develops towards the ground of his existence, the deeper the need becomes and the less he is in fact satisfied by the material sustenance served up to him. The day comes when a hunger and thirst for the living God are born within him and, over and above all earthly existence, are engraved into his body.
So, through fasting, we may begin to re-integrate the desires of the body with the desires of the soul, which all ultimately return to our desire for God. We align our bodily hunger with our spiritual hunger, and in doing so more perfectly turn our whole self into the grace and peace of the living God.