Mary Rose, author of Inquiring Minds interviews of college students on California Catholic Daily, discusses with Father Joseph Illo, pastor of Star of the Sea church in San Francisco his most recent blog post titled “Why fast?” dated January 17, 2024.

Watch the 9-minute recording of this eighth one of the podcasts.

Why fast?
Today we commemorate a little-known feast of seven holy brothers. Unlike The Seven Maccabees, they were not blood brothers but seven successful businessmen in the exciting urban economy of 13th Century Florence. From prominent Florentine families, they felt a call to fast from the goods of this world, on which they had built their fortunes. The seven withdrew to the slopes of Monte Senario outside of Florence to establish the Servite Order. The longest living brother, Alexis Falconieri, was the son of a merchant prince and leader of the republic. His family’s name points to its privileged practice of falconry, but Alexis served as the community’s lay brother. Wondrous in his joyful simplicity and impressive austerity, he lived to the great age of 110, falling asleep in the Lord on this day in 1310.

The question one asks when a wealthy and powerful person trades in wealth and power for a life of prayer and fasting is: why fast? Consider Ann Russell Miller in our own time, from this city of San Francisco. Heiress to three impressive fortunes (the Southern Pacific Railroad, Folger Coffee, and Pacific Gas and Electric), Ann left all her money and her San Francisco mansion overlooking the Bay to their ten children upon the death of her husband in 1984. She held a party for 800 guests at the San Francisco Hilton, after which she boarded a plane for a Carmelite monastery in the Midwest. It is there that she fell asleep in the Lord three years ago, and it is there that she is buried.

Why fast? On Ash Wednesday, that’s what people ask Catholics, who in any case are not very good at fasting. But why even make the effort, when modern supply chains deliver all the food, drink, clothing, and social media one could want? There are many reasons to fast, not least of which is the biblical teaching, but I think the essential reason for fasting is so that we don’t forget God. It’s so easy to miss Him, especially when He is hiding (He likes to play hide-and-seek). It’s so easy to forget about God in a world buzzing and blazing with artificial sounds and lights. “Fasting,” writes F. David Barnes, “is a remedy for our forgetfulness of God.”

God is silent most of the time (I just read the Shusaku Endo novel Silence, which I recommend). When life is difficult, and God is silent, we naturally turn to “things” to fill the vacuum – food, travel, social media, smoking – anything to fill the emptiness. Fasting is staying with God in the solitudes, not panicking, not avoiding the silence. The most perfect form of fasting is from food, which quiets down the body’s clamoring for attention. But perhaps the more important fasting in our time is from artificial media. Food used to be the best means available of filling the void, but now we have social media, endless artificial worlds to fill my mind. But, “in the silence of the heart God speaks,” as Mother Teresa used to say.

I managed to fast a little bit on Ash Wednesday, and my gut felt better. Never in the history of this planet have we had such access to so many calories, and leaner is better for most of us. But the most essential fast for me, every Lent, is from media. I read the news once a day, and I answer my emails, but no music, no podcasts, no videos for forty days. This morning, the fourth day of “silence,” when I usually listen to a podcast as I get ready for the day, I heard a bird singing on Geary Boulevard. I hadn’t heard that bird before, or remember hearing any birds on Geary Boulevard. And in that bird’s voice, I heard the voice of its creator, calling to me, filling my mind with joy and hope. There is a God! And He remembers me each morning! And today, in that bird’s song, I remembered Him.

The above comes from Father Illo’s blog