To Christ, death was the goal and fulfillment of His life, the gold that He was seeking. Few of His words or actions are intelligible without reference to His cross (20).Venerable Fulton Sheen, Life of Christ
Christ’s entire life pointed to the cross. This was His purpose, and few indeed were any of His words and actions that were not inseparably linked to His Passion and Death. Thus, it would serve well to consider everything in his life through this lens. After the wedding feast at Canna and the miracle He performed there marking the beginning of His public ministry, He went out into the desert and fasted for forty days and nights. At first glance, it might seem as if this ordeal was unrelated to His mission to die on the cross as our Savior, but instead we should see it as the first step towards His Passion. It was a preparation, a strengthening, for His final trial.
During these forty days, Christ was also teaching us how to fast. This fasting, in which Christ touched neither food nor water, was humanly impossible. No man can survive for such an extended period of time deprived of sustenance absent the power of God. While Scripture records that both Moses and Elijah endured forty day fasts similar to Christ’s, there is a distinct difference between their fasts and Our Lord’s. Moses and Elijah were assisted by the Divine; Christ did not require assistance, since He was both God and man.
Hence the Lord went towards him, not as God, but as man; rather indeed as God and man. For it was not the nature of man to fast forty days; nor of God to eat at times (5).St. Augustine, Sermon 6 in Lent
Even though Christ’s human nature was enabled by His Divine nature, it is important to realize his suffering was not lessened in any way. His time in the desert was a grueling, arduous forty days far beyond what any man has ever endured. He did this to give us an example of perfect fasting.
That you may learn how great a good is fasting, and how effective a shield against the devil, and also, that after receiving baptism it behoves us not to incline to pleasure, but towards mortification, He fasted; not because He needed to, but to teach us (4).St. John Chrysostom, Hom. 13 on Matthew
Some might think fasting weakens us and makes it easier for us to fall. Doesn’t the devil take advantage of our enfeebled state and barrage us with temptation? It seems that it would be better for us not to fast and thus avoid falling into sin. Christ, during His time in the desert and His three subsequent temptations, shows us clearly by His example that this is not the case. The struggle we experiance while fasting us does not weaken us, it does the opposite. Fasting strengthens us by trial and perfects our character as if we were gold subjected to a refiner’s fire.
[I]n His temptations, He received the strengthening which comes directly from trial and testing. There is a law written across the universe, that no one shall be crowned unless he has first struggled. No halo of merit rests suspended over those who do not fight… Ice deserves no credit for being cold, nor fire for being hot; it is only those who have the possibility of choice that can be praised for their acts. It is through temptation and its strain that the depths of character are revealed (61).Venerable Fulton Sheen, Life of Christ
Fasting is difficult, even painful at times. But through it, we are made stronger. Fasting reveals our true characters, and through the trial it presents, our souls are refined. Christ Himself fasted and allowed Himself to be tempted to strengthen Himself before He began His public ministry and as a first step towards His Passion. If we truly wish to pick up our crosses and follow Christ, we must wholeheartedly embrace the rigors and trials of fasting as Our Lord did in the desert.
– St. Louis de Montfort, Pray for us!
Venerable Fulton Sheen. Life of Christ. Image Books, 1977.
Toal, M. F. ed. The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, Volume Two. Henry Regnery Company, 1960.