by Br. Jacob Mazur-Batistoni, Novice
As Advent has just begun, I have been considering what I will do to prepare for the coming Emmanuel. How is the Lord calling me to have the Incarnate Word dwell deeper in my heart? Looking back, this has been a common theme in my life – how do I leave room for Jesus? At times I have had “no room in the inn” (Luke 2:7). For Christians throughout all times and places, as has been in my own life, prayer and fasting have been an important response to the invitation Christ offers to us all this Advent season: to leave more room for Him to dwell more fully in our lives.
Christ’s Invitation to Leave Room in My Life
There have been two significant encounters with Christ in my life that I would consider moments of conversion. Both involved making more room for Jesus.
The first encounter was the summer before I started college. In a profound encounter with Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration, he invited me to hand all the things that were crowding my soul over to him. When I said yes, Jesus took the burdens from me and filled me with his peaceful presence. This kind of “making room” was simply a prayer from the heart.
The second encounter was during my sophomore year of college. In the midst of trying to discern God’s will for my life, I attended a charismatic Catholic conference. Here, Jesus asked for me to make even more room for him – to surrender my hopes and dreams for the future by discerning the priesthood. Essentially, to trust in His mercy and providence.
After experiencing this call, I desired to give more of myself to Christ. This is when I began to pray and fast. I did three day fast from all foods and had a very fruitful experience. Since then, I have done more fasting of varying intensity. A few of the longer ones involved participating in Exodus 9o, a 90-day fast from media, desserts, and other comforts of life.
Fasting became a tangible, physical way to make room for Jesus in my life and to grow in self-control over my desires and emotions. Through suffering hunger and physical emptiness, I united myself with Christ’s suffering. While fasting, I came to realize that getting irritable was a choice and that my physical discomfort did not have to cut me off from the joy and peace of Christ. I learned to turn to Christ for strength on a daily and, at times, hourly basis – something that each person needs to learn. Recently, Jesus has expanded his residence in me by guiding me to the Dominican novitiate. Now, I’m asking myself how to engage Advent in the midst of a year dedicated to formation and discernment.
Prayer and Fasting in the Context of Relationships
A critical component of fasting is prayer. If one fasts without engaging in a life of prayer, it turns the fast into a health fad or a challenge to conquer, instead of a way to enter relationship with Christ. Prayer could be the Rosary, Lectio Divina, or just sitting in silence with God. Prayer is how we enter into relationship with God, and when fasting for spiritual purposes, one should be striving for this relationship.
Along with praying during a fast, one should pray before a fast to discern what your fast should look like. This is best done with a trusted mentor (a spiritual director, if possible) or a friend that can help you listen to God. In all things, you should pursue what is appropriate for your physical, emotional, and spiritual health. For some, a good fast might be to give up social media. For others, it could be giving up eating snacks. It depends on where God is leading the person at the time.
Fasting has a long history in the Church and touches more of the life of the Church than just the Lenten fast, perhaps a surprise to most Roman Catholics. In the Eastern Christian traditions, they have fasting seasons during Advent (the Nativity Fast), after the Easter season (the Apostles Fast), in August (the Dormition Fast), and during Lent. These practices are slowly being adopted by some Roman Catholic as a way to adopt the Church’s liturgical rhythm in their spiritual life. The liturgy helps to make spiritual practices more communal and less individualized. Fasting could be with two or three people, a small group, or even an entire parish. This helps remind us of the communal support we need in the spiritual life and that this journey is not “just about me.”
Fasting, as a spiritual practice, is primarily a recognition of our weakness and need for Jesus, more than it is a sign of our strength. Without Christ, and our sisters and brothers, it is easy to be deceived or discouraged when taking up the practice of fasting.
Why You Should Consider Fasting This Advent
The strong words of the Gospel challenge us. Jesus does not say when the bridegroom is away, they might or if they feel like it will fast in those days. Jesus said they will fast (Luke 5:35). As the Church today, we ought to consider how Jesus is inviting us to fast. This type of self-denial is not an optional practice, but a key part of following Jesus.
Thankfully, since the Bridegroom has been away, He sent us His Spirit. The Holy Spirit bestows many gifts upon God’s people, but are we willing to make room for the Spirit?
During this Advent season the question is posed in a striking way – will you leave room for Jesus? Or is there no room in the inn?