OK, so let’s think about this in a stepwise fashion. If it’s true that man cannot serve two masters (as evidenced in the Gospel this past Sunday), then it follows that there is no gray area in belief. I either believe or I don’t believe in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I either choose to do God’s will or I do not. If I choose to believe in God, then every action and choice I make either brings me closer to him or further away. Again, there is no gray area here. So my spiritual life, then, is subject to incremental movement both closer to and further away from God - a direct result of every choice and action I take.
Spiritual growth is dynamic. It either is on the increase or the decrease. There is no stagnation or steady state in spiritual development. The choices I make either strengthen my spiritual growth or stunt it. There are no neutral positions.
And when we choose to sin, the effect on our soul is lasting – even after we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We must engage in penance of some sort to reverse the effects of sin on our souls. While prayer is essential, sometimes something more is needed.
A most simple and potent vitamin or supplement that we can employ in the growing and strengthening of our spiritual life is the practice of fasting. Fasting helps restore the soul to its intended beauty and resist the tendency toward sinful motives or actions. It can even decrease our appetite for sin in the future. If there is a question in my life --- fast and ask God to guide me. He will. If I have a persistent sin, a habitual sin, one that I know of that I cannot shake or root out of my life ---- fast, prayerfully fast. With humility and trembling, fast. Jesus, Himself, explained that some demons can only be cast out with prayer and fasting. “Fasting is radically counter-cultural, but so is true Christianity.”
As with prayer and almsgiving, fasting is a spiritual exercise. It is done with humility, in secret, with the assurance that God will discern our true poverty and provide all that we need.
As a spiritual exercise, fasting tames the body so that the soul may reign. Prayer alone cannot achieve this nor can an act of human will or works of charity. This taming of the flesh is a task for fasting (and other acts of penance). In a perfect world, fasting and other penance would be part of everyday life. It would be in the smallest of things done with great love. It would not be in anything performed out of a ritualistic superstition or out of legalistic motives. Fasting is something nobody notices. It’s a habit in that it becomes an attitude, a way of daily life. I love coffee, so I with intent switch to tea every once in a while. I don’t enjoy getting caught on the phone with a neighbor, but I make a point of calling her when I’m sitting in carpool line at school. My grandmother is no longer in her right mind but I go and visit her and hold her hand or brush her hair even though I don’t really have the time. You get it. And if things are in crisis mode, I don’t eat from sun-up to sun-down. Every time I begin to stress and worry about said crisis, I feel the hunger in my stomach and I’m reminded to pray.
Fasting – it’s the new “Ensure” for the soul.
In His Grip,
Francis of A