Fasting will rev prayer into next gear – during Lent and beyond
March 24, 2023
Fasting isn’t a diet fad, nor is it something to be done only in Lent.
And it isn’t just for clergy or religious.
Rather, fasting is a gift from God meant for everyone to some degree, said Father Rodney Kneifl, a retired archdiocese priest.
“The world of fasting is not a secret to be discovered only by a few people, rather for the many,” said Father Kneifl, who founded the Servants of the Heart of the Father based in Platte Center.
“Every good prayer life will be balanced by fasting. Fasting brings one into a deeper, more intimate and powerful relationship with the Lord.”
Father Kneifl, who resides at St. Cecilia Parish in Omaha, recently hosted two conferences on prayer and fasting, one at St. Cecilia and one at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Norfolk. The Catholic Voice is sharing some excerpts from his conferences.
Fasting – together with prayer and almsgiving – is one of the pillars of Lenten practices. Jesus taught his followers to pray, fast and give alms in the Gospel of St. Matthew and elsewhere.
Those practices are weaved together in the spiritual life and amplify each other, Father Kneifl said.
All three are the duties of every Christian year-round, he said, and together they are powerful. “King Solomon is absolutely right when he stated in Ecclesiastes 4:12, ‘A three-ply cord is not easily broken.’”
Father Kneifl defines fasting as abstaining from food or drink to focus on prayer and seeking God’s will. Other forms of fasting – from television, social media or even a habitual sin – also are beneficial.
Even with food, fasting could simply entail giving up dessert or a can of pop, for example.
Fasting fosters a new spiritual richness in one’s life, creating a rich soil, like in the Parable of the Sower, in the Gospel of St. Matthew: “But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”
According to Father Kneifl: “Prayer, fasting and almsgiving takes one’s spiritual life from the path, the rocky ground, from the thorny part of life, and turns it into the rich soil.”
Fasting combined with prayer is urgently needed, he said.
“It is time that we bring our prayer and fasting to bear on the struggles and stresses of the ordained of the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska, the religious members of various groups and certainly to end the horrible war on the unborn,” Father Kneifl said.
“The Lord’s answer to the priests’ stress and struggle, I believe, will come through the laity helping to support them,” he said.
At first, fasting can be difficult.
“Fasting begins the turn-around of our selfish lifestyle,” Father Kneifl said, “from seeking for ourselves to being an avenue of graces for others.
“We are sitting on the practice of the Church that needs to be dusted off and welcome everyone to use it. If you are not sure about whether you can fast or not, contact your family doctor. Start off moderately and bring fasting to what you can do.”
Short-term fasting has helped Father Kneifl in the long run by helping him realize the grip certain foods have had on him.
“I gave up a certain food for a day. The next step is to acknowledge to God, ‘Lord, this certain food has a tremendous hold on me. Release me.’”
Fasting may bring health benefits, mentally and physically, but its spiritual benefits are key.
According to Father Kneifl, fasting:
– eliminates the desire for food and the things of this world, creating a hunger for God.
– enables one to hold fast to God and the graces and blessings He has given us.
– helps a person “face life’s situations not from outside, rather on the inside of the situation, and seek the graces of God so profoundly. God will answer your needs quickly.”
– builds a “garden where intimacy with God grows on a daily basis.”
– makes one more sensitive to the Lord’s voice.
– helps break addictions.
– shows us our weakness and allows us to rely on God’s strength.
Fasting is mentioned more than 70 times in Scripture.
“Through many examples of people in the Bible who fasted, we can know that God grants supernatural revelation and wisdom through this practice,” Father Kneifl said. “Moses, Daniel and even Jesus fasted!
“Scripture tells us that fasting will help us grow a closer relationship with Christ and will open our eyes to what He wants to teach us.”
Some lessons on fasting from Scripture:
– Fast secretly, Jesus advises in St. Matthew’s Gospel: “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father Who is hidden. And your Father Who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
– Fasting is surprisingly powerful. “There was a time when the disciples couldn’t exorcize a boy who had a demon,” he said. “In this moment of teaching, Jesus stated that some demons can only be driven out by prayer and fasting.”
Father Kneifl continued: “Fasting implies an attitude of faith, humility and complete dependence on God. Fasting is used to prepare to meet God (see Exodus 34:28; 1 Kings 19:8; Daniel 9:3); to prepare for a difficult task (see Judges 20:26; Esther 4:16); or to seek pardon for an offense (see 1 Kings 21:27); to express grief in the wake of domestic or national misfortune (see 1 Samuel 7:6; 2 Samuel 1:12; Baruch 1:5).
“Fasting, inseparable from prayer and justice, is directed above all to the conversion of heart, without which, it is meaningless. (See Isaiah 58:2-11; Jeremiah 14:12; Zechariah 7:5-14.)
BEGIN BY ASKING
Beginning to fast can be tough, so people should ask God for the gift and power of fasting, Father Kneifl said.
“It is not a game of human will over our human strength. It is the power of God made manifest in our lives,” he said. “God wants us to be successful in fasting and to move through the tough struggles of life to a better today and better tomorrow.”
Also, don’t jump in over your head, he said. God will help show a good first step.
“The greatest struggle of fasting,” he said, “can be overcoming a stubborn will in your life. The power of fasting is to begin slowly and gradually work through that stubbornness.”
People who fast should have friends or family members to help.
“When I quit smoking both times I found it extremely difficult, but with the help of friends it made a world of difference for me,” Father Kneifl said.
Likewise, families can fast together and use it as a means to support and reach out to one another, he said.
Even more importantly, “call on the Presence of Jesus and His love to fill in those empty spaces of life,” Father Kneifl said, and receive the love of the Father.
“We have said the Our Father hundreds of times and don’t know of the beautiful loving relationship that He wants to have with us.
“Let God remove the barrier and disbelief about fasting. He wants you to see a more thriving spiritual life.”
Beautiful graces accompany fasting, Father Kneifl said. “Fasting reveals our dependencies, our addictions to something. Don’t run away in fear. Stand your ground!”
“If you are fasting for someone else, encourage them, pray and give them support,” he said. “God’s grace will work in your life or in the life of someone you are praying and fasting for at this time.”
The results of fasting will become visible, he said.
“A new light begins to glow within your life, the life of the other person or situation. It is the light of hope. Hang on to it for dear life.”
“Fasting creates a vacuum that liberates a space in our souls, in our bodies, and in our hearts,” Father Kneifl said. “Believe me, God has given us a heart big enough to hold Him and His love. … We will find that it’s easier to forgive ourselves, forgive others; literally our families will begin to change. You may be able to love them for the first time with the love of Jesus.”
He encourages husbands and wives to fast for each other, and they’ll soon see their selflessness beginning to grow.
Father Kneifl urges everyone to continue fasting, prayer and almsgiving beyond Lent.
“Young and old alike give up something for Lent not knowing that we are only skimming the surface of the possibility and power of fasting,” he said.