Tag Archives: fasting

The Big Three of Lent

I saw this post the other day, “The Big Three of Lent.” Thought I would share:

Fasting is not just a spiritual diet. By denying our bodies, our physical hunger reminds us of the hunger of our souls for God, our longing for a deeper relationship with Our Lord.

Almsgiving teaches us to separate ourselves from material possessions. By freely giving of our money and possessions we learn to trust the Lord more deeply for our own daily needs.

Prayer during Lent is a way to stir up our love and enthusiasm by having a deepening conversation with the Almighty. Remember that the light of God’s love shines more brightly in the darkness of the recognition of our own sinfulness.

Fasting was instituted by Our Lord

Yesterday for Ash Wednesday, I proposed that we listen to the words of Saint John Chrysostom on the subject of fasting. Perhaps a more modern person, Saint Francis de Sales, is in order for fasting as a key discipline of Lent. De Sales preached the following. Thanks to Dom Hugh for bringing this excerpt to light which bears a little reflection form us all:

To treat of fasting and of what is required to fast well, we must, at the start, understand that of itself fasting is not a virtue. The good and the bad, as well as Christians and pagans, observe it. The ancient philosophers observed it and recommended it. They were not virtuous for that reason, nor did they practice virtue in fasting. Oh, no, fasting is a virtue only when it is accompanied by conditions which render it pleasing to God. Thus it happens that it profits some and not others, because it is not undertaken by all in the same manner… We know very well that it is not enough to fast exteriorly if we do not also fast interiorly and if we do not accompany the fast of the body with that of the spirit

We must fast with our whole heart, that is to say, willingly, wholeheartedly, universally and entirely. If I recount to you St. Bernard’s words regarding fasting, you will know not only why it is instituted but also how it ought to be kept.

He says that fasting was instituted by Our Lord as a remedy for our mouth, for our gourmandizing, and for our gluttony. Since sin entered the world through the mouth, the mouth must do penance by being deprived of foods prohibited and forbidden by the Church, abstaining from them for the space of forty days. But this glorious saint adds that, as it is not our mouth alone which has sinned, but also all our other senses, our fast must be general and entire, that is, all the members of our body must fast. For if we have offended God through the eyes, through the ears, through the tongue, and through our other senses, why should we not make them fast as well? And not only must we make the bodily senses fast, but also the soul’s powers and passions — yes, even the understanding, the memory, and the will, since we have sinned through both body and spirit.

Ash Wednesday, 1622

On the purpose of fasting of Christians

Fasting is one of those aspects of the Christian life that is not well-received these days. Chrysostom teaches that “we fast to offer our entire selves to the dedication of spiritual thing.” On the medical level, fasting is a purifying practice for the body. Analogously, fasting is purifying for the soul. Eating too much does not open the soul as wide as possible to be in communio with the Lord because it makes the body sluggish, tired and distracted. The point of fasting is awaken our whole being. You can see how the author of the homily below takes a more wholesome approach to this practice taking to heart what the Prophets Joel teaches, rend your hearts. The point of fasting is not merely doing without food for no particular good reason but it does open the heart, at the level of the conscience, to a new way of being: a full life in Christ Jesus. I hope it opens a dialogue for you. Here is an abridged homily St. John Chrysostom.

Fasting is a medicine. But medicine, as beneficial as it is, becomes useless because of the inexperience of the user. He has to know the appropriate time that the medicine should be taken and the right amount of medicine and the condition of the body which is to take it, the weather conditions and the season of the year and the appropriate diet of the sick and many other things. If any of these things are overlooked, the medicine will do more harm than good. So, if one who is going to heal the body needs so much accuracy, when we care for the soul and are concerned about healing it from bad thoughts, it is necessary to examine and observe everything with every possible detail.

Fasting is the change of every part of our life, because the sacrifice of the fast is not the abstinence but the distancing from sins. Therefore, whoever limits the fast to the deprivation of food, he is the one who, in reality, abhors and ridicules the fast. Are you fasting? Show me your fast with your works. Which works? If you see someone who is poor, show him mercy. If you see an enemy, reconcile with him. If you see a friend who is becoming successful, do not be jealous of him! If you see a beautiful woman on the street, pass her by.

In other words, not only should the mouth fast, but the eyes and the legs and the arms and all the other parts of the body should fast as well. Let the hands fast, remaining clean from stealing and greediness. Let the legs fast, avoiding roads which lead to sinful sights. Let the eyes fast by not fixing themselves on beautiful faces and by not observing the beauty of others. You are not eating meat, are you? You should not eat debauchery with your eyes as well. Let your hearing also fast. The fast of hearing is not to accept bad talk against others and sly defamations.

Let the mouth fast from disgraceful and abusive words, because, what gain is there when, on the one hand we avoid eating chicken and fish and, on the other, we chew-up and consume our brothers? He who condemns and blasphemes is as if he has eaten brotherly meat, as if he has bitten into the flesh of his fellow man. It is because of this that Paul frightened us, saying: “If you chew up and consume one another be careful that you do not annihilate yourselves.”

You did not thrust your teeth into the flesh (of your neighbor) but you thrusted bad talk in his soul; you wounded it by spreading disfame, causing unestimatable damage both to yourself, to him, and to many others.

If you cannot go without eating all day because of an ailment of the body, beloved one, no logical man will be able to criticize you for that. Besides, we have a Lord who is meek and loving (philanthropic) and who does not ask for anything beyond our power. Because he neither requires the abstinence from foods, neither that the fast take place for the simple sake of fasting, neither is its aim that we remain with empty stomachs, but that we fast to offer our entire selves to the dedication of spiritual things, having distanced ourselves from secular things. If we regulated our life with a sober mind and directed all of our interest toward spiritual things, and if we ate as much as we needed to satisfy our necessary needs and offered our entire lives to good works, we would not have any need of the help rendered by the fast. But because human nature is indifferent and gives itself over mostly to comforts and gratifications, for this reason the philanthropic Lord, like a loving and caring father, devised the therapy of the fast for us, so that our gratifications would be completely stopped and that our worldly cares be transferred to spiritual works. So, if there are some who have gathered here and who are hindered by somatic ailments and cannot remain without food, I advise them to nullify the somatic ailment and not to deprive themselves from this spiritual teaching, but to care for it even more.

For there exist, there really exist, ways which are even more important than abstinence from food which can open the gates which lead to God with boldness. He, therefore, who eats and cannot fast, let him display richer almsgiving, let him pray more, let him have a more intense desire to hear divine words. In this, our somatic illness is not a hindrance. Let him become reconciled with his enemies, let him distance from his soul every resentment. If he wants to accomplish these things, then he has done the true fast, which is what the Lord asks of us more than anything else. It is for this reason that he asks us to abstain from food, in order to place the flesh in subjection to the fulfillment of his commandments, whereby curbing its impetuousness. But if we are not about to offer to ourselves the help rendered by the fast because of bodily illness and at the same time display greater indifference, we will see ourselves in an unusual exaggerated way. For if the fast does not help us when all the aforementioned accomplishments are missing so much is the case when we display greater indifference because we cannot even use the medicine of fasting. Since you have learned these things from us, I pardon you, those who can, fast and you yourselves increase your acuteness and praiseworthy desire as much as possible.

To the brothers, though, who cannot fast because of bodily illness, encourage them not to abandon this spiritual word, teaching them and passing on to them all the things we say here, showing them that he who eats and drinks with moderation is not unworthy to hear these things but he who is indifferent and slack. You should tell them the bold and daring saying that “he who eats for the glory of the Lord eats and he who does not eat for the glory of the Lord does not eat and pleases God.” For he who fasts pleases God because he has the strength to endure the fatigue of the fast and he that eats also pleases God because nothing of this sort can harm the salvation of his soul, as long as he does not want it to. Because our philanthropic God showed us so many ways by which we can, if we desire, take part in God’s power that it is impossible to mention them all.

We have said enough about those who are missing, being that we want to eliminate them from the excuse of shame. For they should not be ashamed because food does not bring on shame but the act of some wrongdoing. Sin is a great shame. If we commit it not only should we feel ashamed but we should cover ourselves exactly the same way those who are wounded do. Even then we should not forsake ourselves but rush to confession and thanksgiving. We have such a Lord who asks nothing of us but to confess our sins, after the commitment of a sin which was due to our indifference, and to stop at that point and not to fall into the same one again. If we eat with moderation we should never be ashamed, because the Creator gave us such a body which cannot be supported in any other way except by receiving food. Let us only stop excessive food because that attributes a great deal to the health and well-being of the body.

Let us therefore in every way cast off every destructive madness so that we may gain the goods which have been promised to us in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday woodcut.jpg

Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting (required for those between the ages of 18-59; encouraged for all others) and a day of abstinence from meat (for all aged 14 and up) it is NOT a holy day of obligation. There is no obligation to receive ashes.

What does fasting mean?

Fasting means partaking of only one full meal for the day. Two smaller meals may substitute in order not to weaken. No eating between meals.

What does abstinence mean?

The practice of abstinence is defined as not eating red meat; eggs and milk products are acceptable.

Blessed John Paul II reminded us that While preserving their value, external penitential practices are never an end in themselves, but an aid to inner penitence, which consists of freeing the heart from the grip of sin with the help of grace, to direct it toward the love of God and our brothers and sisters.

Lenten practices: confession of sins, praying the Stations of the Cross, giving alms, doing an act of charity. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving form one unit, to separate them makes the whole thing incoherent. Many people attend Mass more often than once a week.

“For the sake of the joy which lay before him he endured the cross, heedless of its shame” (Hebrews 12-2).

Fasting to prepare for Christmas

The Four Men in the Fiery Furnace. Три отрока ...

Latin Catholics are accustomed to fasting once a year
at Lent. Historically speaking, there was a time when the tradition of fasting
was proposed a few more times a year than merely Lent, e.g., the Assumption fast, the Saints’ fast and the Advent

Liturgically speaking the time before any great feast of the Lord (i.e., Christmas & Easter), the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, and
also of Mary (Assumption of the BVM) was preceded by a distinct time of preparation: prayer, fasting almsgiving.

In time, Catholics have relaxed some traditions and now they have become virtually obsolete. Think of the practice of Ember Days. Today, in fact, is the first of the three Advent Ember Days. You may have heard that the US bishops are encouraging the reinstitution
of abstinence on Fridays. Fasting and abstinence are different; do you know the
difference? What can we do to restore a reasonable practice of the Catholic faith that includes expanding our utilization of spiritual disciplines such as fasting? Can Catholics reinstitute the Ember Days in the praying of the Novus Ordo Liturgy?
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About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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