Just recently, I’ve been reading papal encyclicals and Church documents. Last year, I resolved to read one a month, but I failed. This year, I’m making up for that while I research for my weekly column at Today’s Catholic Woman.

Denise got me curious a few years ago with her excerpts and enthusiastic praise and just last week, Padre mentioned in his homily that papal encyclicals are “delightful” in many cases and well worth the read in all the others. My experience has proven them both right, and now that I find myself immersed in Church documents, I’m glad I am.

So, in case you’re like I am, and you won’t necessarily take the time to click through to Pope Benedict XVI’s Lenten message, I’m excerpting a bit of it here, the parts that reached up from the paper and smacked me in the forehead (just what I need as I prepare for Lent):

In the New Testament, Jesus brings to light the profound motive for fasting, condemning the attitude of the Pharisees, who scrupulously observed the prescriptions of the law, but whose hearts were far from God. True fasting, as the divine Master repeats elsewhere, is rather to do the will of the Heavenly Father, who “sees in secret, and will reward you” (Mt 6,18). He Himself sets the example, answering Satan, at the end of the forty days spent in the desert that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4,4). The true fast is thus directed to eating the “true food,” which is to do the Father’s will (cf. Jn 4,34). If, therefore, Adam disobeyed the Lord’s command “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,” the believer, through fasting, intends to submit himself humbly to God, trusting in His goodness and mercy. […]

In our own day, fasting seems to have lost something of its spiritual meaning, and has taken on, in a culture characterized by the search for material well-being, a therapeutic value for the care of one’s body. Fasting certainly brings benefits to physical well-being, but for believers, it is, in the first place, a “therapy” to heal all that prevents them from conformity to the will of God. […]

The faithful practice of fasting contributes, moreover, to conferring unity to the whole person, body and soul, helping to avoid sin and grow in intimacy with the Lord. Saint Augustine, who knew all too well his own negative impulses, defining them as “twisted and tangled knottiness” (Confessions, II, 10.18), writes: “I will certainly impose privation, but it is so that he will forgive me, to be pleasing in his eyes, that I may enjoy his delightfulness” (Sermo 400, 3, 3: PL 40, 708). Denying material food, which nourishes our body, nurtures an interior disposition to listen to Christ and be fed by His saving word. Through fasting and praying, we allow Him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God.

The Pope’s complete Lenten message is here (and it’s not long — three pages printed!)