01 March 2009

On Fasting (Part II): Door to Hospitality

In his December 2008 Message for the Season of Lent 2009, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI focuses on the Lenten practice of fasting. Among his thought (and prayer) provoking comments is the notion that fasting can be a sign of hospitality in our hearts if not in our actions. He suggests that, "By freely embracing an act of self-denial for the sake of another, we make a statement that our brother or sister in need is not a stranger." We can do this in a very traditional manner by foregoing some food that we do not need. We can do this in other ways, too. By refraining from television or our use of the Internet or text messaging, etc., we can invite into our hearts those in our world for whom technology is an unknown experience. Perhaps we might walk to work or bike to work and, for a day or two and welcome into our hearts, those in our world who do not have cars or mass transit available to them. As we choose our acts of self-denial this Lent, let us open wide the doors of our heart to those, near and far, who are less fortunate than we. Let us invite them into our consciousness and our prayers by our little acts of sacrifice.

The Holy Father points out, in his message, the many fruits of fasting and how easily its meaning can be occluded in light of society's focus on our care for our bodies --no doubt a symptom of our culture's obsession with body image and dieting. It should be noted, however, that the spiritual discipline of fasting -- be it from food or from other goods in our life -- is a delicate tool, to be treated with care. To divorce it from its spiritual dimension and to observe only the discipline of fasting is to forfeit its fruit. To partake of it to an excessive degree is to risk losing our ability and our will to fast. Our own Holy Father, St. Francis de Sales had a lot to say about moderation in fasting. We share here a selection:

"I disapprove of long and immoderate fasting, especially for the young. I have learned by experience that when the colt grows weary it turns aside, and so when young people become delicate by excessive fasting, they readily take to self-indulgence. The stag does not run with due speed either when over fat or too thin, and we are in peril of temptation both when the body is overfed or underfed; in the one case it grows indolent, in the other it sinks through depression, and if we cannot bear with it in the first case, neither can it bear with us in the last. A want of moderation in the use of fasting, discipline and austerity has made many a one useless in works of charity during the best years of his life."
St. Francis de Sales

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