Thursday, February 25, 2010
In my homily last Sunday I promised to say more about fasting this Sunday. But I've been working on my homily and it's going in another direction!
Accordingly, I decided to run with an excerpt from Matthew Kelly's excellent book Rediscovering Catholicism: Journeying Toward Our Spiritual North Star. He has a lengthy section on fasting, including its biblical basis, from which I have digested the following:
"I pray we can rediscover the value of this ancient spiritual practice as modern Catholics. Not for God’s sake, but for our own. I am utterly convinced that if we are to develop the inner freedom to resist the temptations that face us in the modern world, we must learn to assert the dominance of the spirit over the body, of the eternal over the temporal. If the spirit within each of us is to reign, then the body must first be tamed. Prayer won’t achieve this, works of charity won’t achieve this, and power of the will won’t achieve it. This is a task for fasting, abstinence, and other acts of penance.
There is great wisdom in the Christian practice of fasting. Though Christian fasting has been largely abandoned, the one penitential practice that seems to have survived the turmoil of this modern era is that of Lenten Penance. Although, I suspect it is hanging on by a very thin cultural thread, which will break unless we can make people aware of the great beauty and spiritual significance of these acts.
There is a war taking place within you. It is the constant battle between your body and your soul. At every moment of the day, both are vying for dominance. If you wish to have a rich and abundant experience of life, you must allow your soul to soar. But in order to do that, you must first tame and train the body. You cannot win this war once a week, or once a year, or even once a day. From moment to moment, our desires must be harnessed.
Penance, fasting, abstinence, and mortification should be a part of our everyday lives. For example, if you have a craving for Coke, but you have lemonade instead. It is the smallest thing. Nobody notices. And yet, by this simple action you say “no” to the body and assert the dominance of the soul assisted by the will. The will is strengthened, and the soul is a little freer.
Or, your soup tastes a little dull. You could add salt and pepper, but you don’t. It’s a little thing. It’s nothing. But if it’s done for the right reasons, with the correct inner attitude, it is a spiritual exercise. You say “no” to the body. In doing so, you assert the dominance of the spirit. The will is strengthened, and the soul is a little freer.
It is these tiny acts that harness the body as a worthy servant, and strengthen the will for the great moments of decision that are a part of each of our lives.
Beyond these moments of mortification, we should each seek encounters with fasting and abstinence if we are serious about the spiritual life. Not because the Pope says to or because our local bishops conference advises it, but because it will help us to turn away from sin and turn to God. Fasting helps us to turn our backs on the-lesser-version-of-ourselves and embrace the-best-version-of-ourselves.
Perhaps you can fast one day a week—two small meals, one full meal, and nothing to eat between meals. Perhaps you can fast one day a week on bread and water. Or maybe all you can manage at this time is to give up coffee for one day. Maybe you can’t even give up coffee for the whole day, maybe just for two hours. Friday has always been a traditional day of fasting, and I would encourage you to employ this tradition in your own way. Only you can decide what is right for you in this area.
Try not to be prideful about it. Come humbly to God in prayer, and there in the Classroom of Silence, decide upon some regular practice of fasting and abstinence. Then, from time to time, review this practice. If you feel called to add to it, add to it.
It is also important to recognize that not all forms of fasting and mortification involve food. You can fast from judging others, or criticizing, or cursing.
Two powerful forms of mortification that helped me to grow tremendously were the practice of silence and stillness. Sit in the silence for twenty minutes. It isn’t easy. That is why so few people pray. After you have become comfortable in the silence, be still for twenty minutes. Completely still. It is difficult. Yet I am convinced that silence and stillness are two of the greatest spiritual tools.
Fasting is a simple yet powerful way to turn toward God. If there is a question in your life—fast and ask God to lead you. He will. If you have a persistent sin that you just cannot seem to shake—fast. Some demons can be cast our only by prayer and fasting together.
Fasting is radically counter-cultural, but so is true Christianity."
From Rediscovering Catholicism: Journeying Toward Our Spiritual North Star, by Matthew Kelly.