Fasting for Advent? Traditionally, just as in Lent, Advent was a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Many familiar Advent activities were part of this: Advent wreaths and candles; caroling; donating clothing, food, and toys to families in need; visiting elderly relatives and neighbors, and volunteering at homeless shelters or soup kitchens. The Advent season served as spiritual preparation for the joyous Christmas celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus.
Greed and Gluttony
Nowadays, the Advent season is marked by greed and gluttony in our culture. With the mad rush on Black Friday, and the frenzy on Cyber Monday, material things have become what matter most to us. And instead of fasting, we have turned Advent into a non-stop feasting marathon. By the time we get to Christmas, we’ve overspent, overeaten, and driven ourselves to exhaustion.
Rather than celebrate the real Christmas season—the Christmas Octave, which runs from December 25 through January 1—we follow the cycle of the secular world and put away our trees and holiday decorations after Christmas Day. Wait, what? Christmas has only just begun, and what better way is there to celebrate New Year’s Day than in joy that Christ has come!
The purpose of fasting is to create an interior attitude of prayer, united to God and divorced from material things. Denying certain bodily pleasures has always been viewed as a key to self-discipline and self-mastery, even in a secular context. The goal of Advent fasting is to make more room for God in a person’s life in anticipation of Christ’s birth, especially during this hectic time of year.
Also, pre-Christmas fasting is intended to be accompanied by prayer and charitable works. Like a three-legged stool, prayer and charity must be grounded in the third pillar of the Christian life: fasting. Fasting disciplines the will and nourishes the soul. It roots prayer in true sincerity, and raises almsgiving from mere philanthropy. St. Peter Chrysologus wrote:
Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others, you open God’s ear to yourself (Sermo 43: PL 52, 320, 322).
This tripod of disciplines opens our minds and hearts to ongoing conversion and the deepening of our spiritual life. They help us to live Advent as a time in which, welcoming the love of Jesus, we learn to spread that love around us with every word and deed.
First Steps for a New Start
This Advent, consider making a new start. Try to take up the discipline of fasting. Replace the deadly sin of gluttony with the lively virtues of abstinence and moderation. Here are a few first steps:
- Abstinence is a type of fasting. If you aren’t already, keeping the Friday Abstinence would be a great way to begin fasting. The Friday Abstinence consists of abstaining from meat (poultry, beef, pork, lamb) for the duration of the day. It might seem difficult at first, and you will have to plan in advance regarding your schedule, but after a month or two it becomes much easier. Try to keep this discipline during Advent, and you will see by the end of it just how easy it was. Hopefully you will choose to continue this throughout the year—just one day a week, one type of food.
- If you keep the Friday Abstinence and would like to do more, you can add additional days. Abstain on Wednesdays as well, or on all of the weekdays during Advent.
- While giving up sweets and alcohol are time-honored ways of fasting, consider giving up one thing that you really like or enjoy. Just make sure it is something that lets you feel the deprivation and is at least a little bit challenging. Make it difficult but doable. And use whatever money or time you save to help others. So:
- Give up chocolate, coffee, dessert, dining out, drinks, smoking, or some other regular indulgence AND give the money you save to those in need.
- Limit television or Internet surfing time AND use the time you save to volunteer at a local social service ministry.
- Remember, fasting is only as good as it is paired with charity and prayer. If you toil in them all together, you will reap the most benefit for your soul.
- Speak with your pastor or spiritual director, and ask them to work on a fasting regimen with you for Advent. Check in with them periodically to let them know how your efforts are going.
Fast for a Specific Intention
Fast for a purpose, with a specific intention. For example, when we fast, it is also helpful to pray for all those who go without food, and connect our almsgiving to local, national, and global efforts by the Church to feed the hungry and serve those most in need.
Now is also a fitting time to fast for another purpose: as a response to this year’s revelations of clergy sexual abuse, sexual misconduct, and diocesan cover-ups. The remedy for this spiritual sickness in the Church is one that only God can bring about—“this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting” (Mt 17:21).
Those in Church leadership roles must engage in finding and implementing solutions. In the end, however, the courage and wisdom to do so in a way that will bring lasting fruit is through the intervention of God. This intervention can and will come through our prayer and fasting for holy resolution to the Church’s challenges.
Renew an Advent Tradition
Let us look at Advent anew, reclaiming it as our “little” Lent. In his Message for Lent 2009, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI shared:
Denying material food, which nourishes our body, nurtures an interior disposition to listen to Christ and be fed by His saving word. Through fasting and praying, we allow Him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God.
Advent fasting is one way to approach Christmas that puts an emphasis on preparing our hearts to receive Jesus as the greatest gift of all. Let fasting help you to make room for the newborn Jesus in the inn of your heart.
Infant Jesus, fill this Advent season with light instead of darkness. Help us make each day an offering of praise to You.
From the neglect of Your inspirations, deliver us, O Jesus.
By the mystery of Your holy Incarnation, deliver us, O Jesus.
By Your Nativity, deliver us, O Jesus.
Jesus, graciously hear us.
© 2018 Maria Vickroy-Peralta.