In his just released Lenten message for 2009, Pope Benedict says fasting is important "therapy" for modern Catholics because it helps make them aware of the deprived state in which many people live.
A panel of Church officials under the leadership of the President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes presented the Holy Father's 2009 Lenten Message yesterday.
Pope Benedict this year chose to focus on the value and meaning of fasting, taking the scripture account of the Lord Jesus' 40 days' fast before his temptation in the desert.
He writes that in our own day, fasting seems to have lost something of its spiritual meaning, and has taken on, in a culture characterised by the search for material wellbeing, a therapeutic value for the care of one's body.
Pope Benedict goes on to recognise the potential benefits to physical wellbeing, and continues to clarify that for believers, fasting is in the first place, a "therapy" to heal all that prevents them from conformity to the will of God.
Pope Benedict also says fasting can bring an increase of sensitivity to the plight of those who are forced by circumstance to go without proper nourishment.
In his message, the Holy Father says the ultimate goal of fasting is to help each one of us to make the complete gift of self to God.
Pope Benedict prays that every family and Christian community use well this time of Lent, in order to cast aside all that distracts the spirit and grow in whatever nourishes the soul, moving it to love of God and neighbour.
Benedict says through fasting "we make a statement that our brother or sister in need is not a stranger."
The comment released Tuesday by the Vatican was part of the pope's traditional message for Lent, the time the Church sets aside for fasting and prayer in preparation for Easter.
The pope urged parishes and other communities to encourage private or communal fasts during Lent.
Pope Benedict Releases 2009 Lenten Message (Vatican Radio)
Pope urges Catholics to keep up fasting (Associated Press)