“To any ladies who wish to get married, I suggest: Marry a man who can fast.”
a Benedictine

This is an interesting requirement in looking for a spouse. Immediately we might reflect that surely anyone can fast. But then again, there is fasting, and there is fasting.

Fasting usually refers to foregoing food but can also refer to saying ‘no’ to other things, as for instance one could ‘fast’ from using social media. Any fasting is a saying ‘no.’ Yet it is always a ‘no’ for some reason; we might say it is a no rooted in a ‘yes.’

The desire for bodily health or for looking trim are two yes’s that can inspire saying no to food. Another could be the desire for the strength of will that comes of repeatedly saying no to something I want.

To think clearly about fasting, and the fasting we most want to do, we need to think about the why: the yes behind the no. Christians embarking on a practice of fasting for Lent might ask ourselves: why am I doing this? What precisely is the yes at work here, or in any case the yes that I want to be at work here?

Traditionally there are several reasons that Christians fast. Two of these stand out as obviously connected to one another and as firmly rooted in human experience. Fasting can curb the desire for lower things, and it can elevate the mind to higher things. This latter reason, which itself lends special importance to the first reason, should give us pause. Clearly, not all fasting elevates the mind to higher things. What does it take then for fasting to have this all-important fruit?

The most obvious step is that I recognize this as reason and fruit. I choose to make the no of my fasting about the yes of turning to higher things. I might all too easily commence fasting simply because it must be done. Such fasting can still have good fruits; but it will be very different from fasting consciously undertaken in view of higher things. Thomas Aquinas further specifies: for the sake of “contemplating sublime things.”

Here is something that can make the monotony and pain of fasting really come alive: training my soul to see sublime things, and to love them, and give myself to them.

This is not an ordinary vanilla saying no to things. This is saying no to what we want when we do not have to say no, so as to turn our gaze to something else. Motivated by love, this turning gives greater vision. And so it grows our love. Our yes grows firmer and deeper.

The ability to fast as a kind of prerequisite for marriage starts to come into focus. A man who can fast is a man who can see, and love. He has practiced what is the heart of any real relationship, whether with God or with other persons. He has learned to say no to himself. And how many ways—some obvious, some not so obvious—must a man say no, again and again in his life! All because of the most important yes’s; such as one day when he says “I do.”

If married, we can yet become the man our wife would have wanted to marry, or the man she did want to marry, whether she saw that clearly, or not. Whatever my state in life, I can still become a man who can fast. I owe this to others and to God. And in doing it, I will discover at last the man that they know I can be.
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