Ten (10) Psychological Qualities of Fasting (cont.)
The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. [Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 2].
Spiritual fasting cultivates an attitude that discards the brute, animal disposition that can control our mind.
When we fast, we deny ourselves immediate pleasure and accept discomfort, hardship and tribulation in exchange for sublime awareness of the Divine.
Fasting may be difficult, but it provides the body with energy, activity, and resistance … Human life is a composite of two distinct powers: the spirit and the flesh. Although they sometimes act in harmony, conflict is more usual – conflict in which one defeats the other. If bodily lusts are indulged, the spirit grows more powerless as it becomes more obedient to those lusts. If one can control the desires of the flesh, place the heart (the seat of spiritual intellect) over reason, and oppose bodily lusts, he or she acquires eternity. [Fethullah Gülen].
6. Outlook on Life
Fasting is a way of looking at life. When we fast, we satisfy a spiritual need, but also expect that a tangible reward. We hope that we please God and receive His Grace.
As a habitual mental attitude, fasting determines how we interpret and respond to many situations. The self-control, discipline and restraint that support our fasting persist in coloring our state of mind in normal life, long after we stop fasting.
Abu Huraira relates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “The fasting person has two occasions for joy, one when he breaks his fast because of his breaking it and the other when he meets his Lord because of the reward for his fast.” [Sahih al-Bukhari, 7492].
This is the mark of Christianity: however much a man toils, and however many righteous deeds he performs, to feel that he has done nothing, and in fasting to say, “This is not fasting,” and in praying, “This is not prayer,” and in perseverance at prayer, “I have shown no perseverance; I am only just beginning to practice and to take pains”; and even if he is righteous before God, he should say, “I am not righteous, not I; I do not take pains, but only make a beginning every day.” [St. Macarius the Great].
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle (PBUH) said, “Fasting is a shield (or a screen or a shelter). So, the person observing fasting should … not behave foolishly and impudently, and if somebody fights with him or abuses him, he should tell him twice, ‘I am fasting.” [Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 118].
Fasting can affect our habitual tendencies. An acquired inclination or habit can be controlled or modified by a regimen of regular fasting.
When we fast, we are particularly inclined to sobriety and serious thought, and disinclined to frivolity and playfulness.
Be on your guard when you begin to mortify your body by abstinence and fasting, lest you imagine yourself to be perfect and a saint; for perfection does not consist in this virtue. It [fasting] is only a help; a disposition; a means though a fitting one, for the attainment of true perfection. [ St. Jerome].
But that there maybe no error in the name, let us define what fasting is; for we do not understand by it simply a restrained and sparing use of food, but something else. The life of the pious should be tempered with frugality and sobriety, so as to exhibit . . . a kind of fasting during the whole course of life. [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Ch. 12].
Fasting means abstaining from food, but includes other forms of self-denial to promote a more sober lifestyle. But that still isn’t the full meaning of fasting, which is the external sign of the internal reality of our commitment to abstain from evil with the help of God and to live the Gospel … [Pope Benedict XVI].
Fasting is a vehicle in our journey of self-discovery. It helps us measure just how committed we are to our spiritual path and how attached we have become to the world around us.
The process of achieving understanding and knowledge of ourselves
Today, especially in affluent societies, St. Augustine’s warning is more timely than ever: ‘Enter again into yourself.’ Yes, we must enter again into ourselves, if we want to find ourselves. Not only our spiritual life is at stake, but indeed, our personal, family and social equilibrium, itself. One of the meanings of penitential fasting is to help us recover an interior life. [Pope John Paul II].
Under special difficulties, or when in great need of, or great longings after, any particular mercy, for yourself or others, set apart a day for secret prayer and fasting by yourself alone; and let the day be spent, not only in petitions for the mercies you desire, but in searching your heart, and in looking over your past life, and confessing your sins before God, not as it wont to be done in public prayer, but by a very particular rehearsal before God of the sins of your past life, from your childhood hitherto, before and after conversion, with the circumstances and aggravations attending them, and spreading all the abominations of your heart very particularly, and fully as possible, before him [Jonathan Edwards, “The Young Professor”].
Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity. Enter again into yourself. [St. Augustine, “On Prayer and Fasting,” Quoted by St. Thomas Aquinas].
9. Moral Stance
Fasting is a rationalized mental attitude expressing intentions, motives, or views. We exchange material and transitory physical pleasures for unrestrained trust in God.
When we fast, we make a private declaration of independence from physical desires, lust and self-destructive passions. It is a spiritual manifesto declaring that the material world does not hold us in bondage.
This principle can be appropriately applied to the mass media. Their usefulness is indisputable, but they must not become the “masters” of our life. In how many families does television seem to replace personal conversation rather than to facilitate it! A certain “fasting” also in this area can be healthy, both for devoting more time to reflection and prayer, and for fostering human relations. [Pope John Paul II, Penitential Fasting Is Therapy for the Soul, 1996]
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.” [Pope Paul VI, Paenitemini (Apostolic Constitution on Penance) 1966].
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness[a] will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. [Isaiah 58:3-9 (NIV)].
Fasting alters our awareness and perception of our self and of the world.
Our ultimate spiritual goal as human beings consists of entering, during our life, into a conscious awareness of the Divine Reality. This means that our soul requires an intimate communion with God. Fasting is a door to that consciousness.
O YOU who have attained to faith! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, so that you might remain conscious of God: [Quran 2:183].
Fasting as a religious act increases our sensitivity to that mystery always and everywhere present to us. It is an invitation to awareness, a call to compassion for the needy, a cry of distress, and a song of joy. [Fr. Thomas Ryan].
Fasting is to reaffirm to oneself what Jesus answered Satan when he tempted him at the end of his 40 days of fasting in the wilderness: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). [Pope John Paul II].