Rescue for the spirit, i.e. how to fast today

Milena Kindziuk

Forty days of Lent can sometimes make miracles. It can help you leave ‘the dark valley’, repair the ways of your life that are falling apart. But it can be done under one condition: you want to devote more attention to your spiritual sphere.
‘The psychiatric hospital in Tworki is almost my second home’, says a person who has been well known: his photo appeared on the covers of magazines and known for his public activities. He ‘lands’ here every several weeks. When he cannot cope with the tempo of his life, when he cannot afford even three hours of sleep, and his post and work do not let him spend some time in rest and solitude the only rescue is therapy in hospital, which can last for the weekend, a week or sometimes a month. Tworki is an ideal place to cure your psyche. And what about your spirit?

Life as a snow ball

– I tear out a page from the calendar. Another page in my life. I do not even notice that we have Lent’, the man regrets. The figure of the priest wearing a violet stole makes me think of that time of the year which can change your life.’
Chaplains working in psychiatric hospitals cannot reveal their patients’ names. They are obliged to keep them in secret as doctors are. But speaking frankly they say with great sadness that known politicians, ministers, journalists, usually those working in television, businessmen or schoolmasters as well as overworked monks and priests are frequent ‘guests’ in these centres.
– You would be surprised if I told you even one name – one of the chaplains assures me. Horrible rush through life and excessive duties are the most frequent reasons of many psychological diseases as well as spiritual negligence. Since in such a busy life there is no place for solitude, reflection, not mentioning a true deep prayer. All things happen faster and faster. Life rolls like a snow ball – sometimes one does not know its destination and sometimes one’s life is just falling apart.

To show more love

Fortunately, there is such time in the liturgical year that can help you overcome excessive activism, tiredness, spiritual laziness or simply lack of desire to fathom what is most important in life.
Forty days of Lent can sometimes make miracles. It can help you leave ‘the dark valley’, repair the ways of your life that are falling apart. But it can be done under one condition: you want to care for your spiritual sphere. To show more love like you lavish love to a small child who intuitively knows what to do but needs – like a hero from Rozewicz’s books – ‘a teacher and master’. Then the needed enlightenment comes.
I cannot wait to ask the question what to do to have this enlightenment so that another Lent in my life is not over but will yield fruit this time. The best fruit would be some resolution. One resolution, even the smallest one, but most adequate in my life. For some it can be a baptism of a child who is several years old; for others it can be the sacrament of matrimony or reconciliation with some family member. But they can be ordinary things and activities: punctuality, fulfilment of duties, helping others. These can be the hardest Lenten resolutions. ‘Since sometimes it is easier to attend the service of the Way of the Cross or to abstain from eating sweets than one concrete effort for forty days’, thinks Fr Jan O’Dogherty from Opus Dei. According to him fast is for example making more effort while cooking. ‘This is a perfect mortification in marriage. A plate of hot soup. Ironed shirt or ‘shutting your mouth’ when your spouse begins an argument take more efforts and are real mortifications. I know married couples who decided not to talk about unpleasant things during weekdays, possible arguments are left for the weekends when they have time to think peacefully about the difficulties. These are sacrifices that border on holiness. Mortifications are not values in themselves. ‘In Lent we do not want to mortify blindly but we want to get to know ourselves, our unordered inclinations and to fight with them’, explains Fr Andrzej Ruszala, OCD, Krakow-based theologian, specialist in spirituality.

Two wings of fasting

Therefore, Lent directs us towards values that give sense to our life, and to him that causes our life to change but not to end. So it makes our earthy life more sensible. How to fast today? Fr Jacek Salij, OP, suggests, ‘Fasting has two wings: prayer and deeds of brotherly love. Only being in such a company fasting becomes a great means on the way to salvation. Without these wings fasting means very little. According to Rev. Professor Stanislaw Urbanski, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University, fasting should be a personal form of choice that will be useful to get to know God better. ‘We do not mean external forms but spiritual transformation, which is the most important thing in Lent.’
On the other hand, Fr O’ Dogherty focuses on the unconventional methods of fasting. ‘As a matter of fact every sense can fast. Not only the sense of taste but hearing or sight. One can learn how to control one’s sight. Not to look at what draws my attention. So it means mortification and controlling curiosity. When can hearing fast? – There are people who turn on the radio after they wake up. They cannot live without music or news. When they restrain from turning on the radio their hearing can keep fast. And then they gain minimum of inner concentration, which is indispensable to talk to God during the day’, explains the priest who belongs to Opus Dei.

Sacrifice for the thin

Naturally, fasting as refraining from food and drink has its sense. All religions know this form of fasting. In Christianity the Orthodox Church practices long fasting: the faithful fast forty days before Easter, the same before Christmas, fourteen days before the Dormition of the Mother of God, a week before the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, and moreover on all Wednesdays and Fridays. Then they do not eat meat, animal fat and even dairy products. Fr Henryk Paprocki, an Orthodox priest, said in an interview that fasting is a proof of man’s freedom; it shows that if you can give up some dishes you can give up some sin. Some ancient Eastern Churches have even more fasting practices, e.g. in the Ethiopian Church fast days embrace almost half of the year. ‘However, one should understand the sense of fasting since for instance thin people or anorectics should mortify themselves by eating more and not less. This is fasting for them’, explains Fr Jan O’ Dogherty. He also thinks that in our times ‘fasting from the Internet’ or television is perfect – for lovers of the cable television or satellite television. Contemporary culture needs to discover these forms of fasting very much.

Smile and other mortifications

Paradoxically, smile can be one of the biggest mortifications. O’ Dogherty thinks: – There are moments when a smile requires a lot of effort. Every day we are tired, overburdened, frustrated. And we have problems, too. So it is not easy to smile, especially when we deal with someone who is bothersome, someone we do not like or someone who is hard to get along. If we can smile in spite of all the difficulties this is a form of sacrifice. Since it does not come easy, we make efforts to amuse others. And one more thing: confession is the most important preparation for Easter. This is the climax of all penitential practices, sacrifices and resolutions. The charm of Lent is also its uncompromising nature. Since it commands us to face the truth. To see what is evil, sin, ash. But it also gives hope so rise from the ashes to new life.

"Niedziela" 6/2008

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: