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Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II during Lent
General Audience, Wednesday 21 March 1979 - also in French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. "Proclaim a fast!" (Joel 1, 14). These are the words that we heard/listened to in the first reading on Ash Wednesday. The Prophet Joel wrote them and the Church in conformity/accordance with them establishes the practice of Lent, (by) ordering a fast/fasting. Today the practice of Lent, defined by Paul VI in the Constitution "Poenitemini ", is considerably mitigated compared to those of the past. In this matter the Pope has left much/a great deal to the decision of the Episcopal Conferences of the individual countries, to whom therefore it pertains the task of adapting the demands/requirements of fasting according to the circumstances that prevail in their respective societies. He also recalled that the essence of Lenten penitence/repentance consists not only of fasting, but also of prayer and almsgiving (works of mercy). Hence it needs to be decided according to the circumstances, since the fast/fasting itself can be "replaced" by works of mercy and prayer. The purpose of this particular period in the life of the Church is always and everywhere penitence/repentance, that is conversion to God. Penitence/Repentance, in fact, understood as conversion, that is "metanoia", forms a whole, which the tradition of the People of God already in the old Covenant and then Christ himself have linked, in a certain way, to prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

Why fasting?

At this moment there perhaps come to mind the words with which Jesus answered the disciples of John the Baptist when they asked him: "Why do your disciples not fast?" Jesus answered: "Can the wedding guests mourn while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them and then they will fast" (Mt 9, 15). In fact the time of Lent reminds us that the bridegroom has been taken away from us. Taken away, arrested, imprisoned, slapped, scourged, crowned with thorns, crucified... Fasting in the time of Lent is the expression of our solidarity with Christ. Such/This has been the meaning of Lent through the centuries and such/thus it remains today.

"My love has been crucified and there is no longer in me the flame that desires material things", as writes
Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch, in his letter to the Romans (Ad Romanos VII, 2).

2. Why fasting?

A broader and deeper answer needs to be given to this question, so that the relationship becomes clear between fasting and "metanoia", that is this spiritual transformation, which brings man closer to God. We will thus seek/try to concentrate not only on the practice of abstention from food or drink — which (in fact) means "fasting" in the common sense — but on the deeper meaning of this practice which, moreover, can and must sometimes be "replaced" by some other/another one. Food and drink are indispensable for man to live, he uses them and must use them, however/nevertheless he is not permitted to abuse them in any form/way. The traditional abstention from food and drink has as its end/purpose to introduce into man's existence not only the necessary balance, but also detachment from that which/what could be defined (a) "consumerist attitude". Such an attitude has become in our time one of the characteristics of civilization and in particular of Western civilization. The consumerist attitude! Man orientated towards material goods, multiple material goods, very often abuses them. This does not uniquely concern/It is not uniquely about food and drink. When man is orientated exclusively towards the possession and use of material goods, that is, of things, then all/the whole of civilization also comes to be/is measured according to the quantity and the quality of the things that it is able to provide to man, and is not measured with the yardstick/measure suitable for man. This civilization, in fact, provides/supplies material goods not only because they serve man to perform/carry out creative and useful activities, but more and more... to satisfy the senses, the excitement he derives from them, momentary pleasure, an ever greater multiplicity of sensations.

At times it is said/we hear it said that the excessive increase of audiovisual media in the rich countries is not always conducive for the development of intelligence, particularly in children; on the contrary, it sometimes contributes to curbing the development. The child lives only of/on sensations, is looking for ever-new sensations... And thus he becomes, without realizing it, a slave of this modern passion. Satiating himself with sensations, he often remains
intellectually passive; the intellect does not open to the search of (the) truth; the will remains bound by habit which it does not know how to/is unable to oppose.

From this it follows that contemporary man must fast, that is, abstain not only from food or drink, but from many other means of consumption, stimulation, satisfaction of the senses. To fast means to abstain, to renounce something.

3. Why renounce something? Why deprive oneself of it? We have already partly answered this question. However the answer will not be complete, if we do not realize that man is himself also because he succeeds in depriving himself of something, because he is capable of saying to himself:
"no". Man is a being composed of body and soul. Some contemporary writers present this composite structure of man under/in the form of layers and speak, for example, of outer/exterior layers on the surface of our personality, counterposing them to/with layers in depth. Our life seems to be divided into such layers and takes place through them. While the superficial layers are linked to/bound up with our sensuality, the deep layers are instead (the/an) expression of man's spirituality, that is, of conscious will, of reflection, of conscience, of the capacity to live higher/superior values.

This image of the structure of the human personality can serve to understand the meaning of fasting for man. It is not here only about the religious meaning but about a meaning which is expressed through the so-called "organization" of man as a subject-person. Man develops regularly when the deeper layers of his personality find sufficient expression, when the sphere of his interests and aspirations is not limited just to the exterior and superficial layers, connected with human sensuality. To facilitate such a development, we must sometimes deliberately detach ourselves from what serves to satisfy sensuality, that is, from those exterior, superficial layers. Therefore we must renounce every thing that "nourishes" them.

This, in short, is the interpretation of fasting nowadays. Renunciation of sensations, stimuli, pleasures and even food or drink, is not an end in itself. It must only, so to speak, prepare the way for deeper contents by which the interior man "is nourished". This renunciation, this mortification must serve to create in man the conditions to be able to live the superior values, for which he, in his own way, hungers.

This is the "full" meaning of fasting in the language of today. However, when we read the Christian authors of antiquity or the Fathers of the Church, we find in them the same truth, often expressed in a surprisingly "modern" language. St Peter Chrysologus, for example, says.. "Fasting is peace of the body, strength of minds, vigour of souls" (Sermo VII: de jejunio 3); and again: "Fasting is the helm of human life and governs the whole ship of our body." (Sermo VII: de jejunio 1.)

And St Ambrose replies as follows to possible objections to fasting: "The flesh, because of its mortal condition, has some specific lusts: With regard to them you are granted the right to curb them. Your flesh is under you...: do not follow the promptings of the flesh to unlawful things, but curb them somewhat even as regards lawful ones. In fact he who does not abstain from any of the lawful things, is also very close to unlawful things." (Sermo de utilitate jejunii III.V.VII). Also writers not belonging to Christianity declare the same truth. This truth is of universal significance. It is part of the universal wisdom of life.

4. It is now certainly easier for us to understand why Christ the Lord and the Church unite the call to fasting with repentance, that is, with conversion. To be converted to God, it is necessary to discover in ourselves that which makes us sensitive to what belongs to God; therefore, the spiritual contents, the superior values which speak to our intellect, to our conscience, to our "heart" (according to biblical language). To open up to these spiritual contents, to these values, it is necessary to detach oneself from what serves only the consumer spirit, satisfaction of the senses. In the opening of our human personality to God, fasting — understood both in the "traditional" way and in the "modern" way — must go hand in hand with prayer because it is addressed directly to him.

Furthermore, fasting, that is, the mortification of the senses, mastery of the  body, confer on prayer a greater efficacy, which man discovers in himself. He discovers, in fact, that he is "different", that he is more "master of himself", that he has become interiorly free. And he realizes this in as much as conversion and the meeting with God, through prayer, bear fruit in him.

It is clear from these our reflections today that fasting is not only a "vestige" of a religious practice of past centuries, but that it is also indispensable for the man of today, for Christians of our time. It is necessary to reflect deeply on this subject, particularly during the period of Lent."

To the students present:

Beloved Brothers! I am really happy at this meeting of mine with a large crowd of adolescents and boys and girls from, various Italian schools. You know how much the Pope relies on you who represent the expectation and hope of society and the Church.

To all of you my affectionate and cordial greeting, which I extend to your teachers and your parents Who are making so many sacrifices for your cultural, human, and Christian formation.

I deeply desire to urge you to prepare, right from the present time, by means of serious study, for the commitments you will have to assume in a few years' time in order to make your personal contribution to the construction of society, based on justice, freedom, and solidarity. You are Christians, that is, you are followers of Christ. You love him; you wish to be always faithful friends of his; you accept his teaching joyfully, which sometimes calls for sacrifices. Well: commit yourselves to working enthusiastically among your fellow students, among your friends, at school, in order that Christ's message may penetrate deeply into consciences.

Let the Lenten period, in which the Liturgy of the Church presents to our reflection the great mysteries of salvation, be lived by us all in an attitude of repentance and sacrifice, in order to prepare in a worthy way for the paschal meeting with Christ. Always be animated by the noble ideal proclaimed by Jesus: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (Jn 15:12 f.)

With these wishes I willingly bless you."

Ai malati

"Al gruppo degli ammalati dell’UNITALSI di Firenze, a tutti gli infermi qui presenti e a quanti soffrono nel corpo o nello spirito desidero rivolgere con particolare intensità di sentimento il mio cordiale saluto e l’assicurazione del mio ricordo nella preghiera. Carissimi ammalati, la sofferenza è un grande mistero, ma con la grazia di Gesù Cristo essa diventa una sicura via verso la felicità eterna. Il dolore infatti è un mezzo adatto per diventare sempre più intimamente amici di Gesù, il quale vuole essere luce e conforto della vostra esistenza. Vi accompagni la mia Benedizione."

Alle coppie di giovani sposi

"Una parola e un augurio ai novelli sposi. Carissimi, difendete con ogni premura il vostro amore e ricordatevi che Cristo è vicino a voi per rendere indissolubile il vincolo che vi unisce e per aiutarvi a dare testimonianza nel mondo di oggi della concezione cristiana della famiglia. Mentre di cuore vi benedico, prego il Signore di accompagnarvi con la sua assistenza e con la sua grazia lungo la strada della vita che avete scelto di percorrere insieme."