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Five Ways to Fast (That Don’t Involve Food)

For medical reasons, some members of the Fenelon Clan are unable to precisely follow the Church’s precept to fast during Lent. Because of our conditions, we could receive dispensation from fasting altogether, but to us, that seems like the easy way out. We almost feel as if we’re cheating. So, we fast to the measure that we’re able. Fasting is an important factor in conversion, and Lent is all about conversion, so why would we want to miss out on that? Consider what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about it:

“The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all three forms, fasting, prayer, and alms giving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and others. Alongside the radical purification brought about by Baptism or martyrdom they cite as a means of obtaining forgiveness of sins efforts at reconciliation with one’s neighbor, tears of repentance, concern for the salvation of one’s neighbor, the intercession of the saints, and the practice of charity which covers a multitude of sins.” (CCC 1434)

If I’m understanding that correctly, then fasting is more about reconciliation than it is about deprivation. Fasting is about self-denial and reaching deep, deep, inside ourselves in order to purge out all that separates us from God , from our neighbor, and even from ourselves. Fasting is a means by which we strengthen our hearts and souls against sinfulness. Fasting from food (and abstaining from meat) on the prescribed days is essential to our Lenten observance, but there are others ways, other things from which we can fast that also will serve to lead us to reconciliation when we aren’t able to refrain from food.

Over the years, my husband and I have worked to instill this in our family – particularly in light of our medical conditions – so that our Lents will be as fruitful and penitential as possible, even when we’re forced to deter our fasting because of health issues. Based on our experience, I’ve put together a list of five ways to fast that don’t involve food. I just want to mention here that those who are able to fast from food are bound to follow the precept. However, for those who can’t or those who want to fast in additional ways, this list could be of great help.

1. Fast from pride. Pride is a sin against love, which can even lead to hatred of God. Refrain from bragging about your own skills and qualities and instead spend the day giving sincere praise for the skills and qualities of others. Take a back seat and observe the wonders of how God works in and through others.

2. Fast from laziness. Laziness is a kind of sloth and deters us from doing our best for God’s kingdom. Acedia is spiritual sloth, and can even lead us to be repelled by divine goodness. Stop looking for the easy way out, and instead choose the harder path. Instead of saying the shortest prayer in the book, choose the longer one. Instead of using the handi-vac, sweep the floors deliberately and prayerfully. Instead of taking the elevator, take the stairs.

3. Fast from ingratitude. Ingratitude fails to acknowledge God’s goodness and is a failure to return his love. Instead of spending the day complaining about what you don’t have, or can’t do, or what others won’t do for you, spend the day giving thanks to God for all that you do have, all you can do, and all that others to do, and have done for you.

4. Fast from lukewarmness. Lukewarmness is hesitation or negligence in responding to God’s love and can signal our refusal to give ourselves completely to God. Instead of doing and saying things out of obligation, strive to do and say them out of love for God and for your neighbor. Stop each hour of the day in order to ask God for the grace to love him as you ought to be fervent in your faith.

5. Fast from indifference. Indifference leads us to denial of God’s power and wisdom. We all feel this way at one time or another; we don’t sense God’s activity in our lives and therefore doubt his ability to care for, and protect us. Throw off the tethers of indifference, and stop each hour to remind yourself that God is indeed the All-Mighty, All-Wise, and All-Knowing. Praise him for his Omnipotence.

This little system, written down in just a few hundred words, seems easy enough to do. In practice, it can be difficult to carry out – sometimes even more difficult than corporal fasting! It’s hard work, and, if approached in a true penitential spirit, it can be an authentic form of Lenten repentance, and lead to genuine conversion.


Marge Fenelon is a Catholic wife, mother, author, columnist, and speaker. She’s a frequent contributor to a number of Catholic publications and websites and is a regular guest on Catholic radio. She’s written several books about Marian devotion and Catholic family life and has touched the hearts of audiences in a variety of venues. Her latest book is Imitating Mary: Ten Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom (Ave Maria Press, 2013).
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  • Cheryl Dickow

    I would suggest that the most difficult and thus even more pentitential fasts for Catholics would be Lenten fasts from Twitter, Facebook and other social media and then turn that into time spent in the Gospels and in serving others.