In the concluding part of our interview with Sister Mary David, she explains why fasting is about more than simply giving something up; it is a source of important spiritual benefits.
Catholic Compass: Wouldn’t it be more sacrificial for me to give up foods that I really love such as chocolate rather than meat which maybe I do not like much, or do some other good work?
However valuable works of compassion may be (and they have always accompanied the practice of fasting), fasting is of another order. On the one hand, the purpose of fasting and abstinence is not to “give up” things. Fasting and abstinence, as the new booklet hopes to show, is a much broader reality than, say, giving up chocolate. It takes in the whole person, not just this or that activity. While fasting takes the form of refraining from eating, it is primarily designed to submit the body to a spiritual discipline, “sealing” our entire being so that we can concentrate on higher things.
On the other hand, fasting and abstinence is something we do in common with everyone else in the Church. In the words of Archbishop Nichols: “What we’ve sought to do in this decision is establish a shared practice.” In the past, fasting and abstinence was something we did in common with everyone else in the Church; there is a strength that comes with following the accepted patterns of the Church’s traditions, when, in the words of the bishop’s resolution, all the faithful [are] united in a common celebration of Friday penance. When we choose our own penance, there can always be the danger of secret pride. It is spiritually safer to be humble and do the same as all other Catholics.
Catholic Compass: What are some of the spiritual benefits of fasting and abstinence?
Man is a unity of body and soul, and fasting and abstinence is a practice that involves both. So fasting or abstinence will also include an effort at abstinence from evil thoughts, desires, and deeds. Fasting is part of the struggle against weaknesses and defects to acquire purity of heart. It fosters prayer. It is a way of preparing the body for the resurrection, opening it to grace, and making it more receptive to God’s word. Renouncing taste for earthly nourishment develops the taste for God. It is to liberate oneself from dependence on the things of this world in order to concentrate on the things of the Kingdom of God. Finally, food restrictions train us to be content with what is necessary, by freeing us from artificial needs created by our consumeristic society.
Sr Mary David is a Benedictine nun of St Cecilia’s Abbey, Ryde, Isle of Wight, where she serves her Community as Prioress and Novice Mistress. Keep an eye out for her book, coming soon from CTS.
Of related interest:
|Spiritual Warfare – This booklet enlightens the struggle by searching the wisdom of the scriptures. It gives hope to everyone, because Christ is always by our side to help us in every battle.|
|Lent and EasterSpanning the seasons of Lent, Easter and to Pentecost, this booklet describes the rich heritage of customs and traditions long practiced by Catholics down the ages, up to today.|
|Prayer, Fasting & Almsgiving – The three traditional “weapons of the spirit” used by Christians particularly during Lent.|