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Becoming Unchained From Our Senses


“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.“ ~ Saint Francis de Sales

In his book Eat, Fast, Feast: Heal Your Body While Feeding Your Soul―A Christian Guide to Fasting, Author Jay Richards makes the case for Christians to return to a more orthodox fasting lifestyle, not only to improve our bodies, but to bolster our spiritual health as well. His thesis couples forgotten spiritual wisdom on fasting and feasting with the seemingly endless literature at our disposal on matters pertaining to ketogenic diets and fasting for improved physical and mental health. He goes on to explore what it means to substitute our hunger for God for our hunger for food, and what both modern science and the ancient monastics can teach us about this practice.

Richards’ book was undoubtedly inspired at least in part by today’s Gospel (Matthew 9:14-15) a Lenten First Friday mainstay, wherein Jesus explains why his disciples do not fast. “The day will come,” Jesus says, “when the bridegroom is taken away from them. Then they will fast.” Jesus wanted John's disciples, his own as well, to realize that while he was with them it was a time of great joy. But in foreshadowing his death on the cross, he also implies that a time of great sadness will one day come as well.

Jesus’ presence, it would seem, is what determines and brings order to our joy. We are also reminded that although Jesus the Bridegroom was taken away from his mystical bride the Church by way of his Crucifixion, this too would be temporary. Joy would return as our unconquerable Savior would annihilate death, an unworthy opponent when pitted against the Son of God. Even Jesus’ glorious and rightful Ascension into Heaven would not signal the final chapter. Catholics the world over feast at the Eucharistic Table virtually all day every day. As I type this, you can rest assured that the Holy Catholic Mass is being celebrated somewhere in the world.

I reflected on the notion of fasting last year on the first Friday of Lent when these readings were proclaimed (Isaiah 58:1-9 was also read today). As I look back, I’ve come to believe that I may have mistitled last year’s essay I don’t know that fasting is necessarily a lost art. Instead it might be that we have forgotten how virtuous it can be, how valuable. Perhaps it’s a devotion we can put into practice after the Lenten Season has given way to Easter and Pentecost. Saint Francis de Sales, whose quote kicks off today’s reflection, thought so. Here’s what he had to say on the matter:

“If you are able to fast, you will do well to observe some days beyond what are ordered by the Church, for besides the ordinary effect of fasting in raising the mind, subduing the flesh, confirming goodness, and obtaining a heavenly reward, it is also a great matter to be able to control greediness, and to keep the sensual appetites and the whole body subject to the law of the Spirit; and although we may be able to do but little, the enemy nevertheless stands more in awe of those whom he knows can fast.”

I plan on reading Mr. Richards book and adopting these principles in an effort to order my life more closely to the liturgical calendar. In the meantime, I leave you with a final quote from one of the newer members of the Communion of Saints, Saint Paul VI, who shared these thoughts on the value of fasting:

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“This exercise of bodily mortification—far removed from any form of stoicism—does not imply a condemnation of the flesh which sons of God deign to assume. On the contrary mortification aims at the “liberation” of man, who often finds himself, because of concupiscence, almost chained by his own senses. Through “corporal fasting” man regains strength and the “wound inflicted on the dignity of our nature by intemperance is cured by the medicine of a salutary abstinence.”

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