Today (Ash Wednesday) once again we enter into another season of Lent. During this season we try to take account of our lives. We try to look into our inner life. To do this we use various means. Fasting is one of the traditional ways of focusing on our inner life. With the same purpose, fasting is used in other religions such as by Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. Do you think we can still use this age-old method meaningfully in the twenty-first century?

How can fasting be meaningful? What do we expect to gain by fasting? When we fast we feel hungry. For the food to be digested the stomach produces hydrochloric acid. That’s why when we are hungry we feel something burning in our stomach. That’s why in Sinhala the word for hungry literally means a fire in the stomach. And this makes us contemplate the material needs of others. Often we forget how many people in this world scarcely have the basic necessities of life.

Here I am reminded of a saying of the Roman Catholic Archbishop Don Helder Camara. He said Food for my stomach is a material need, but food for my neighbour’s stomach is a spiritual matter. Do you think that it is God’s will for some people to have too much and others to have too little? This is a spiritual matter. Think about it. Some people have too little because others have too much.

Secondly, fasting teaches us self-discipline. When we fast we learn to control our emotions. This really helps us in our day-to-day activities. Lack of self-discipline is one of the main problems in our society. Often people try to control others but find it difficult to control themselves. Fasting is a good way of seeing how far we can control ourselves.

Thirdly, fasting helps us to realise that our lives do not wholly depend on material things. Perhaps unconsciously we think we depend on material things. Let me ask a question. "Do we live to eat or eat to live?" At times we think we live to eat and forget we eat to live. Do you remember how people wanted to make Jesus a king when he fed the five thousand? Jesus was very unhappy about this and said, “You follow me because I gave you something to eat”

Often we don’t realise how much our lives are controlled by material things. We have become slaves of money and wealth. Fasting helps us to liberate ourselves from this bondage. It is necessary for us to understand that although we need money and wealth for everything money and wealth are not everything.

Today I would like to draw your attention to these three aspects as subjects for meditation. Just think about these three things and see whether you can get some benefit from fasting. Let me remind you of them. First, to have a taste of the suffering of others. Secondly, to learn to control ourselves. Thirdly, to realise that we do not fully depend on material things.

I am sure you can use this as a way towards a higher level of spirituality, both for yourself and for the benefit of others. Take the first step during this Lent and go forward. Let us ask God to give us His grace to understand ourselves so that we will be able to serve him and His creation in His world.