What's Unique About Christian Fasting

Cardinal Cordes Presents Papal Lenten Message

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 5, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Christian fasting is distinct from fasting in other religions because its objective is discovering God, not oneself, said the president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum.

Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes affirmed this Tuesday in a press conference at the Vatican, in which Benedict XVI's Lenten Message was presented. The theme for this 2009 message is: "He Fasted for 40 Days and 40 Nights, and Afterward He Was Hungry."

When Christians fast, explained the cardinal, "they do not shut themselves up inside," but rather "they unite themselves with their Lord who fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert."

Society may emphasize physical health and wellness, pointed out Cardinal Cordes, and "the Lenten message seems to contradict social trends." Yet, he explained, "the body can become a tyrant" and "the desire for well-being and pleasure can reduce freedom and become unmanageable by the human will."

He continued: "Fasting aims to make a clean break in our lives. [...] It transcends the earthly dimension and pursues an objective that is beyond this world."

The pontifical council president stated that in other religions, such as Buddhism or Islam, this objective may be "entry into Nirvana or obedience toward Allah, lord of heaven and earth."

He said that the meaning of fasting in Buddhism is the detachment from earthly goods because the body itself becomes a source of sufferings. In this sense, "one should break the habit of 'thirsting' for created things, to abandon the desire and the restlessness that are derived from it, to kill them within oneself," and in this way to arrive to Nirvana, which is the complete extinction of desires.

For Islam, the cardinal explained, fasting is the fourth column that sustains this religion and an obligatory practice during the month of Ramadan.

He explained another reason for the Muslims to detach themselves of all that is earthly: "God has his throne in an infinite distance. He cannot be found in the world. He only communicates with creation and with mankind by means of his law, the sharia."

For this reason, he added, "it would be a scandalous heresy to affirm that Allah would have as a son a member of the human race."

Christian distinction

Cardinal Cordes explained, "fasting in these religions cannot simply be identified with Christian fasts" because in both of those religions "fasting is a struggle against the material world's power over mankind."

He continued: "It is influenced by a dualistic philosophy. Fasting, hence, has negative connotations: It is a way of freeing ourselves from the burden that created things have upon us.

"However, this risks isolating man and closing him in upon himself. For Christians, on the other hand, mystical desire is never a descent into oneself, but a descent into the profundity of faith, where one meets God."

The cardinal affirmed that "fasting in this Lent has no negative connotations."

He pointed out: "How could we scorn our own flesh if the Son of God took that flesh upon himself, becoming our brother! Depriving oneself and denying oneself are positive acts: They aim at the encounter with Christ."

Although it is important to learn from other religions, Christians should deepen in the "inheritance [they have] received and know it better each time. The divine revelation says something new in every historical epoch; it is inexhaustible," he affirmed.

Cardinal Cordes clarified the distinction between the rejection of the world on the part of Buddhism or the Islamic laws of Ramadan, and Christian Lent, which "offers the Christian a spiritual path and practice in order to exercise our surrender to God without reserve."

When people fast with an interior attitude of a desire for conversion, "in Christ they look for communion with the divine 'You,'" said the council president.

He added, "Restraining one's own self must leave space for giving to God because, in the final analysis, only he is the happiness we seek."

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On the Net:

Pope's Lenten Message for 2009: http://www.zenit.org/article-24990?l=english