Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fasting and Gluttony


I do not like to fast.  I would be dishonest if I said anything else.  I personally find fasting one of the most difficult spiritual exercises.  My only hope is that because I find it so difficult, it is more meaningful when I do it.  I've heard people "pooh pooh" the Catholic way of fasting - which is two small snacks per day with one regular meal - as being "sissy."  Well, I guess I'm a sissy because that is what I do and I still find it very difficult.

But all that aside, fasting - the denial of self - is one of the most important and powerful spiritual tools we have been given. Every time we say no to self, it enables us to say yes to God.  Fasting is a major spiritual tool that Catholics use during Lent.  It cleanses both our minds and souls and prepares us for the solemnity of Holy Week and Good Friday and the great feast of Easter when we celebrate our Lord's resurrection.  Prior to Vatican II, it was a requirement for all adult Catholics to fast the entire 40 days of Lent (those with health problems, pregnant women, etc. were exempted from this requirement, of course).  The thinking since Vatican II is that we don't want to place too many "burdens" on people, so that was scrapped with so many other things, all to the detriment of people's souls.  But that's for another time.

There was a very good reading in today's Traditional breviary about fasting and gluttony which I would like to share.  It centers around Moses - who spent 40 days in complete fasting and prayer before God - giving the 10 commandments to the people of Israel, who were engaged in gluttony and sin.
Moses Giving the 10 Commandments
to the Children of Israel
The Lesson is taken from a Sermon by St. Basil the Great
We know that Moses went up with fasting into the Mount. For he would not have dared to go unto its burning and smoking top, nor to have entered the thick cloud, except he had been made strong by a fast [when we feel weak physically, that is often when we are strongest spiritually]. And it was during this fast that he received the Commandments written with the Finger of God on tables of stone. Thus was fasting the means of the giving of the Law on the mountain-top. But below at its foot, gluttony was the means of leading the people into the worship of idols, and so of polluting them. It is written : The people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play. One drunken bout of the people made void, and of none effect, all the toil and patience of the forty days, during the which the servant of God had fasted and prayed unceasingly. Those tables of stone, written with the Finger of God, were received through fasting and were broken through drunkenness. For the holy Prophet thought it not meet that a people filled with wine should receive Law from God.

In one moment of time that people, who had by means of great wonders been taught to worship God, fell headlong through gluttony into the cesspool of Egyptian idolatry. The which things, if thou wilt consider, thou shalt see that fasting leads to God, and feasting to the loss of salvation. What was it that degraded Esau, and made him a slave to his brother? Was it not but a dish of pottage―a toothsome morsel of food stewed in a pot―for which he sold his birthright? And Samuel, was he not granted to his mother's prayers through fasting? And Samson the mighty, what was it that made him invincible? Was it not fasting, wherewith he was conceived in his mother's womb? Fasting conceived him ; fasting nurtured him ; fasting made him the man he was ; even as the Angel of the Lord had commanded his mother, saying : She may not eat of anything that cometh of the vine, neither let her drink wine or strong drink. Fasting begat Prophets. Fasting is the strength and mainstay of mighty men.

Fasting giveth wisdom to rulers ; it is the trustiest keeper of the soul, the sure ally of the body, the strength and armour of brave men, the training of athletes, and wrestlers. It is fasting which maketh us strong against temptation, which prepareth us for the service of God, which dwelleth with sobriety, and is the author of temperance. Fasting maketh men valiant in war, and gentle in peace. Fasting maketh a Nazarite to be holy, and a priest to come unto perfection. Without fasting it is unlawful to touch the Sacrifice, not only in that mystical and true worship of God which now is, but also according to the Law, in those sacrifices which of old time were offered as figures of the true. Fasting opened the eyes of Elias to look upon a great vision, for when he had cleansed his soul by forty days of fasting, there on Horeb the Mount of God, he was made able, so far as man may be made able, to see God. Moses, receiving the Law a second time, a second time prepared himself by fasting. Except the Ninevites had fasted, both man and beast, herd and flock, they had not escaped from the ruin that hung over them. In the wilderness fell some, and who were they? Yea, they were such as lusted after flesh meat.
If we set our eyes and desires on the physical, we will perish along with it.  If we look instead to the heavenly, spiritual things of God, we will gain eternal life.  That is one of the major lessons of Lent.

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