Fasting Is Scary But Effective, Says Retreat Leader

Reflects on Benedict XVI's Focus for Lent

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By Marine Soreau

PARIS, FEB. 27, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Though the idea of depriving oneself of food is hardly appealing, fasting gives fruits and genuine conversion, according to a retreat leader in France.

Jean Christophe Normand works with retreatants at Benedictine monasteries, though he himself is a layman and father.

He told ZENIT that fasting is a key element in gleaning spiritual fruits from retreats. Benedict XVI's message for Lent this year is also focused on fasting.

This practice entails "a genuine conversion at the spiritual level," Normand said, acknowledging that "the fruits are different" according to each individual. But, "what is clear is that fasting gives answers."

The retreat leader contended that fasting prepares for a "genuine conversion at the spiritual level."

He noted his experience with people who go on retreat, saying that they are seeking but not always able to give a name to their search. "In face of the need to change, fasting offers resources to take this step," Normand said. "On the day we take leave of one another we do an evaluation. Then the [retreatants] are able to give a name to what they have come to seek. The fruits depend on each person, but the fact is that fasting offers answers."

Normand said fasting also helps to overcome a "fear of privation." He said that retreatants are encouraged when they realize that it is possible to deny themselves.

He explained: "Ultimately, this gives very great personal confidence: My body has resources to live [through] periods of scarcity!"

Normand acknowledged that fasting is not something natural, as "the idea of depriving oneself of food always causes much anguish."
 
But, he continued, "by adopting a position of humility, we give up our desire for power. We understand what is really necessary in our lives and what isn't. In this endeavor of introspection and distancing, we understand what is excessive in our lives."

And, the retreat leader added, fasting opens people to others: "One does not fast for oneself. Fasting opens one to others and to the life of charity. For this reason, we propose systematically, at the end of the retreat, that [retreatants] offer a gift, that they support a work.
 
"Thus we live fully the charisms associated with the life of Christ. In addition to the joy of physical well-being, we experience the joy of being in communion with our brothers and sisters."