I might be the last person you expect to give some reflection on fasting. It is clear that fasting is not one of my strength, but I am working on it. At a recent retreat at meal time we receive what most people would consider a normal meal such as; a tuna fish sandwich, 10 string beans and a cup of fruit. I said to a fellow priest, “This is what normal people eat.” It was a reminder of my need to temper my appetite for food.
Fasting was consider a charism in the early church. One early church father said that the Holy Spirit, “Makes some persons have no concern for the needs of the body.” Fasting is not primarily an exercise in self will, but it’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit in our life.
I just finished reading Father Charles M. Murphy book, “The Spirituality of Fasting Rediscovering a Christian Practice.” I would like to share with you some of the golden nuggets in this book.
Father Charles writes, “Aquinas lists three motives for fasting, all biblically based. First, fasting is the guardian of chastity, as the Apostle Paul teaches. (2 Cor 6:5) Second, fasting helps our minds rise more freely to the heights of contemplation. as was the case for prophet Daniel who, after fasting for three weeks,. was granted a divine revelation. (Dn 10:3) Third, fasting is a penitential practice by which we can make satisfaction for sin, as Joel the prophet instructed us. (JL 2:12)”
“By directly countering our craving. fasting helps us to restore the original freedom of the children of God and helps is to adopt the proper posture before God of humility and vulnerability….Fasting makes us capable of entering the Promised Land, helping us shed our slavish natures…Jesus’ response to the three temptations, moreover, shows the clarity of thinking that fasting has provided him, and thus demonstrates the deepest meaning of fasting. Fasting can have a penitential significance, undoing the effects of sin in our lives, but fasting also brings to consciousness our ‘helplessness, contingency and humbling of self before the omnipotent God who generously guides and sustains life.”
“Saint Augustine and Our Unruly Desires. One of the main consequences of original sin, the fallen human condition into which each of us has been born, is what St Augustine termed, ‘concupiscence’ or ‘disordered desires.’ Augustine scholar Margaret Miles, in her book ‘Fullness of Life: Historical Foundation for a New Asceticism’ demonstrates the relevance for us of Augustine’s concept of concupiscence and its ultimate healing through God’s grace. Her definition of concupiscence if ‘repetition syndrome’ the tendency to do something repeatedly, even when doing it brings is less and less satisfaction…Karl Rahner. S.J., is noted among modern theologians for his classic essays on the subject of concupiscence and its relevance for us. Following the insights of Augustine…Rahner defines concupiscence as the spontaneous desires and appetites that precede our free-will decisions and impede them. They can eventually take over our lives through habits if thinking and acting that come to define us as persons. Like Augustine, Rahner, attributes our ultimate healing to God’s Grace which allows us to cultivate the new virtues, the powers that allow us to become the persons we truly wish to be.”
St Augustine tells us, “Break your bread for those who are hungry, said Isaiah, do not believe that fasting suffices. Fasting chastises you, but it does not refresh the other. Your privation shall bear fruit is you give generously to another…Do you wish your prayers to reach God? Give it two wings, fasting and almsgiving.” Pope Benedict wrote, “Ecclesiastical penance is a process which can and often must continue beyond…death…This process point up the difference between someone’s valid fundamental decision, whereby he is accepted in grace, and the defective permeation of the effects of that decision throughout the being of the whole person…It is the inwardly necessary process of transformation in which a person becomes capable of Christ, capable of God and thus capable of unity with the whole communion of saints…Man is the recipient of the divine mercy, yet this does not exonerate him from the need to be transformed.”
Fasting has a bad rap today. There is beauty in fasting. Fasting helps us acknowledge our dependency on God and His Grace. Fasting is connected to experiencing the freedom of the children of God. The less that we are moved by our disordered need for food, people and things than we encourage the Holy Spirit to move in our hearts.
Holy Spirit help me to desire to fast this lent
Help me to heal my addition to food…whatever you are addicted to
Holy Spirit help me to know that fasting is not an end in itself but a means to help make this world a true home for the poor
Holy Spirit help me to know that everything in my life is Grace