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Fasting: Fighting a Battle against Self

In the desert, we do not battle only with temptations from the outside, but especially those that come from within.

Detail from "Temptation of Christ" (1872) by Vasily Surikov []

“He was hungry.” Luke tells us of Jesus’ struggle with the devil in the desert, during which he fasted for 40 days. At the end of it, as you might suspect, he was hungry (Luke 4:2). He proved to us that man does not live by bread alone, because we depend even more upon God, who truly sustains our lives. Even though we must eat and drink, fasting shows us that we have deeper needs. Being hungry can be good, simply for reminding us of this truth.

America has descended into a new period of bread and circuses, forgetting the deeper needs of our transcendent nature. We are not even trying to fight the spiritual battle. Even though a good portion of the country considers itself Christian, the sociologist Christian Smith popularized a new term to encapsulate the religious sentiments of most Americans of any denomination: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which I would describe as be nice, feel good and God is absent, although you can call out to him in prayer in case of emergency. In this religion of self, God becomes subordinate to the individual’s wants and desires, reinforcing the modern notion that the self is reality.

Carl Trueman’s masterful book, Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution (Crossway, 2022) explains how we enshrined the self in so exalted a position. We now seek to shape our identity through the fulfillment of our desires, particularly sexual ones, and insist that others affirm our choices to validate our sense of worth. Trueman explains, “The modern self is one where authenticity is achieved by acting outwardly in accordance with one’s inward feelings” (23).

The scope of our action has expanded through technology, opening up seemingly endless possibilities for self-expression: “The collapse of traditional, external anchors of identity — perhaps most obviously those of religion, nation and family — explains the attraction of the turn inward. The rise of technology feeds the notion that we can bend nature to our own will, that the world is just so much raw, plastic material from which we can make whatever meaning or reality we choose” (108-09). Behind this attempt to redefine the self and reality, we can identify the age-old temptation to become a god unto ourselves, defining for ourselves what is good and evil.

“Woe to you that are full now.” In acting upon all of our desires without reflection or restraint, we have lost self-control and a desire for higher goods that are more arduous to obtain. With a full stomach, it is hard to remember that we do not live on bread alone. Human beings are naturally averse to suffering, but we can prove that we are more than simply earthly matter by choosing to suffer willingly. Why would anyone do that?

Even on a natural level, we see that accomplishing anything worthwhile requires sacrifice. In the runup to the Super Bowl, ESPN ran a feature on four-time champion Joe Montana, who “knew the secret to winning football better than anyone. It wasn’t athleticism or mental acuity or even accuracy. ‘Suffering,’ Ronnie Lott says.” His father had taught him, “‘Hey, look, you have to be willing to go die for it.’” And he was speaking about football.

Love provides an even more profound reason to choose sacrifice and suffering. Nothing pulls us out of an inward focus more than love, which is not a feeling but a choice to put the good of the other first. Suffering proves love, because without it, it’s too easy for love to remain lip service. If I truly choose another before myself, then I will sacrifice for their good. This is true in our relationship with God as well, of course. Jesus went out into the wilderness to be with his Father, to put him first, to show there was nothing more important. His hunger proved his love by proving that he would not be satisfied by anything less.

“Blessed are you who hunger now.” Lent is a time of fasting, when Christians enter into the desert with Christ to put him first and to fight against all the attachments and temptations that keep us from him. It is time to say, “I will not be full, I will not be satisfied with normal food, because I seek the bread of heaven.” Jesus presents himself as the daily bread, which has come down from heaven, through which we will live forever. And yet, it is too easy to overlook this food, as we become full with the junk that clouds our minds and inflames desires without ceasing. During Lent, we say “no” to that which does not truly satisfy.

The “self,” our own selfish being, our individuality that makes each one of us number “one,” must die. In the desert, we do not battle only with temptations from the outside, but especially those that come from within. We have to make a choice whether we will follow the religion of self or take up our Cross to live for someone else. It is only by dying to self that we can truly live for God, a life that will be happier, holier and more truly “me” — as God made me and called me to be forever.

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About Dr. R. Jared Staudt 57 Articles
R. Jared Staudt PhD, serves as Director of Content for Exodus 90 and as an instructor for the lay division of St. John Vianney Seminary. He is author of How the Eucharist Can Save Civilization (TAN), Restoring Humanity: Essays on the Evangelization of Culture (Divine Providence Press) and The Beer Option (Angelico Press), as well as editor of Renewing Catholic Schools: How to Regain a Catholic Vision in a Secular Age (Catholic Education Press). He and his wife Anne have six children and he is a Benedictine oblate.


  1. Martyrdom of a Mother and Her Seven Sons. 2 Maccabees 7

    It also happened that seven brothers with their mother were arrested and tortured with whips and scourges by the king to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s law. One of the brothers, speaking for the others, said: “What do you expect to learn by questioning us? We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.” At that the king, in a fury, gave orders to have pans and caldrons heated. These were quickly heated, and he gave the order to cut out the tongue of the one who had spoken for the others, to scalp him and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of his brothers and his mother looked on. When he was completely maimed but still breathing, the king ordered them to carry him to the fire and fry him. As a cloud of smoke spread from the pan, the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die nobly, with these words: “The Lord God is looking on and truly has compassion on us, as Moses declared in his song, when he openly bore witness, saying, ‘And God will have compassion on his servants.’” After the first brother had died in this manner, they brought the second to be made sport of. After tearing off the skin and hair of his head, they asked him, “Will you eat the pork rather than have your body tortured limb by limb?” Answering in the language of his ancestors, he said, “Never!” So he in turn suffered the same tortures as the first. With his last breath he said: “You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to live again forever, because we are dying for his laws.”…
    …After he had died, they tortured and maltreated the fourth brother in the same way. When he was near death, he said, “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the God-given hope of being restored to life by him; but for you there will be no resurrection to life…
    …Most admirable and worthy of everlasting remembrance was the mother, who saw her seven sons perish in a single day, yet bore it courageously because of her hope in the LORD. Filled with a noble spirit that stirred her womanly heart with manly courage, she exhorted each of them in the language of their forefathers with these words: “I do not know how you came into existence in my womb; it was not I who gave you the breath of life, nor was it I who set in order the elements of which each of you is composed. Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe who shapes each man’s beginning, as he brings about the origin of everything, he, in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life, because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law.

    John 3:3 Jesus gave him this answer: I solemnly assure you, no one can see the reign of God unless he is begotten from above. How can a man be born again once he is old?” retorted Nicodemus. “Can he return to his mother’s womb and be born over again?” Jesus replied: I solemnly assure you, no one can enter into God’s kingdom without being begotten of water and Spirit.

    2 Maccabees 7:24 Continued: Antiochus, suspecting insult in her words, thought he was being ridiculed. As the youngest brother was still alive, the king appealed to him, not with mere words, but with promises on oath, to make him rich and happy if he would abandon his ancestral customs: he would make him his Friend and entrust him with high office. When the youth paid no attention to him at all, the king appealed to the mother, urging her to advise her boy to save his life.

    Mathew 16:24 Jesus then said to his disciples: “If a man wishes to come after me, he must deny his very self, take up his cross, and begin to follow in my footsteps. Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would a man show if he were to gain the whole world and destroy himself in the process? What can a man offer in exchange for his very self? The Son of Man will come with his Fathers glory accompanied by his angels. When he does, he will repay each man according to his conduct.

    Matthew 10:28 “Do not fear those who deprive the body of life but cannot destroy the soul. Rather, fear him who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna.”

    2 Maccabees 7:26 Continued: After he had urged her for a long time, she went through the motions of persuading her son. In derision of the cruel tyrant, she leaned over close to her son and said in their native language: “Son, have pity on me, who carried you in my womb for nine months, nursed you for three years, brought you up, educated and supported you to your present age. I beg you, child, to look at the heavens and the earth and see all that is in them; then you will know that God did not make them out of existing things; and in the same way the human race came into existence. Do not be afraid of this executioner, but be worthy of your brothers and accept death, so that in the time of mercy I may receive you again with them.”

    Hebrews 11:35 Women received back their dead through resurrection. Others were tortured and would not receive deliverance, in order to obtain a better resurrection.

    Daniel 12:13 Go, take your rest, you shall rise for your reward at the end of days.

    Upon Jesus’ resurrection he is born again. The mother tells her son to choose to
    remain faithful to God’s will to the end and she will receive him, the fruit of her womb, for a second time. The mother tells her son that after death the Creator will breath life into him for a second time. In fulfilling faith and obedience to God, the son will be born again and resurrect into his mothers arms for a second time.

    2 Maccabees 7:30 Continued: She had scarcely finished speaking when the youth said: “What are you waiting for? I will not obey the king’s command. I obey the command of the law given to our forefathers through Moses. But you, who have contrived every kind of affliction for the Hebrews, will not escape the hands of God. We indeed, are suffering because of our sins. Though our living LORD treats us harshly for a little while to correct us with chastisements, he will again be reconciled with his servants. But you, wretch, vilest of all men! do not, in your insolence, concern yourself with unfounded hopes, as you raise your hand against the children of Heaven. You have not yet escaped the judgment of the almighty and all-seeing God. My brothers, after enduring brief pain, have drunk of never-failing life, under God’s covenant but you, by the judgment of God, shall receive just punishments for your arrogance.”…

    2 Maccabees 7 Continued: “Like my brothers, I offer up my body and my life for our ancestral laws, imploring God to show mercy soon to our nation, and by afflictions and blows to make you confess that he alone is God.”

    Matthew 5:16 “In the same way, your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father.”

    2 Maccabees 7:38 Continued: “Through me and my brothers, may there be an end to the wrath of the Almighty that has justly fallen on our whole nation.” At that, the king became enraged and treated him even worse than the others, since he bitterly resented the boy’s contempt. Thus he too died undefiled, putting all his trust in the LORD.

  2. Jared Staudt treats the battle we tend to sidestep from. We tend to nurture, admire, think highly of ourselves. Paul, the greatest of the Apostles, realized this major battleground. His solution was crucifixion of self, ‘I am crucified to the world’.
    Another was the incomparable Moses. At 80 he began his 40 year journey into the wilderness. Most of us at 80 are buried somewhere or in nursing homes incarcerated in gerrychairs.
    Now Our Lord fasted 40 days and nights. Moses fasted the 40 days and nights on mount Sinai, then after smashing the Decalogue tablets due to Israel’s golden calf worship climbed back up Sinai and fasted another 40 days and nights. At 120 years of ancient age he reached his limit in the hills overlooking the Holy Land, indicative of our salvation in the heavenly kingdom. Refused entry he was left to die in those hills.
    There’s a hidden meaning in this refusal. We know he, of all the holy ones in the OT, was the greatest. He appeared with Elijah at the Transfiguration. Could it be that his death after finally viewing the promised land, followed by Our Lord embracing him as he entered the true promised kingdom is an allegory of our own journey into the wilderness and the unparalleled benefit of fasting prayer and suffering? Of course.

    • Father, your observation is astute and appreciated. I have a small trifle to add of my own. Perhaps, it might be fair to say that the Church Suffering, i.e. those in Purgatory (for those Catholics unfamiliar with the phrase “Church Suffering”), are in a horrible exile – a most horrific “fast” of sorts. Not only is THIS exile we suffer summed up most sufficiently in the phrase “Lacrimarum Vale”; but, I could only imagine how the poor souls are suffering who, having glimpsed the glory and love of God; are now cut off and exiled until such time when purged of their dross they can enter into the JOY of the kingdom. I pray for these “friends” and, in my own way, suffer with them, for who doesn’t have regrets, remorse, insensitivities against God or, for that matter, all things good that weren’t properly checked? I pray your time in exile with Christ this Lent brings you a new-found depth and love for the same. God Bless!

  3. “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” sound like: be moral, it is good for you; who needs God? Praying, fasting, alms giving, makes us focus on others and realize our limitations and faults, called to imitate Christ, submit to Him in obedience to His holy Will. We do not need fun but joy. The sign of a Christian is joy, even onto martyrdom because receiving the holy sacraments we become children of God and immortality with the King of Glory. The more we give of ourselves, the more we receive in divine mercy and grace and love from God who is love. Christ who birthed us by having His Sacred Heart pierced for us for love of us, washes our sins away by His precious Blood, feeds us with Himself, and in His mystical Body makes us heirs and children of God. “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” (Heb 2:3) “Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and magnify Thy name? For Thow only art holy; for all nations shall come, and shall adore in Thy sight” (Rev 15:4). The Prince of God, the divine Bridegroom, the Lord of Lords, whose Sacred Heart is the tabernacle, the house of God and gate to heaven, a burning furnace of charity, in whom dwells the fullness of divinity. (litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) says: Blessed are they that are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb”. Chastity, fasting, praying, alms giving, everything will change into great joy – you just have to fall in love with Him.
    “I cannot tell why He whom angels worship
    should set His love upon the sons of men.
    Or why as Shepherd He should seek the wanderers
    to bring them back they know not how or when.
    But this I know that He was born of Mary
    when Bethl’hem’s manger was His only home
    and that He lived at Nazareth, and labored
    and so the Savior, the Savior of the world is come.
    I cannot tell, how He will win the nations
    how He will claim His earthly heritage
    and satisfy the needs and aspirations
    of east and west of sinners and sage.
    But this I know, all flesh will see His Glory
    and He shall reap the harvest He has sown.
    And some glad day His sun shall shine in Splendor
    when He the Savior, the Savior of the world is known.”
    (The three Priests of Ireland)

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Fasting: Fighting a Battle against Self | Passionists Missionaries Kenya, Vice Province of St. Charles Lwanga, Fathers & Brothers
  2. Fasting: Fighting a Battle against Self – Via Nova

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