The first I read was Matthew Kelly’s Rediscovering Catholicism.
For my first post on this book, I want to very briefly consider his chapter on fasting.
Kelly makes the point that we are very often ordered around by our bodies. Many of us don’t lack discipline over our temporal bodies. In the Scriptures, Kelly reminds us that fasting generally had to do with once act of repentance and humbling himself before God.
In the New Testament, Jesus fasts. Yet Jesus is sinless, so it isn’t an act of repentance but rather a spiritual exercise, so as to recognize more fully the Father’s presence in his life and to grow in union with Him. Our attachments to food and worldly pleasures have a way of detaching us from God.
Kelly: “Fasting is to the body what prayer is to the soul.”
Kelly takes a look at the history of fasting in our Church and its transformations. Fasting has been around a long time. Even the Didache (first/second century) mentions it as a practice we should be concerned with.
The number of fasting days as regulated by the Church, Kelly says, increased abundantly, and for good reason. But at a certain point, “the motive for fasting began to shift toward obligation and away from conversion and penance.”
Well, the argument exists whether or not that was a wise move. One might make the same statement about the Mass; many go to Sunday Mass because if is an obligation, not always to seek conversion. But that doesn’t mean we drop the requirement; rather, we ought to catechize what the Mass is really about such that all might grow to love it more and find in it the way to conversion and union with God.
Kelly quotes Paul VI: “Do you wish your prayer to fly toward God? Give it two wings: fasting and almsgiving.” What a great statement.
The Spirit is dominant over the body. Fasting reminds us of that.
Kelly brings forth an excellent suggestion as a way of training the body. He suggests that we never leave a meal without having exercised some form of mortification. Maybe we don’t salt the potato. Maybe we leave the butter off. Maybe we get a water instead of a Coke. Things like that help.