+JMJ+ Welcome to part 7 of our Quest and our Catholic Book of the Month, Introduction to the Spiritual Life: Walking the Path of Prayer with Jesus, by Brant Pitre. We didn’t finish with the book in January, so we’re continuing with it this month.
There’s more in the book than I can cover in these posts. You can get a copy of your own in hardcover or Kindle ebook format using the links at the end of this post, and view other parts of this series on the annotated Table of Contents page.
Last week we went over the three temptations and mentioned the remedies for them. This week we’ll go into more about those remedies. First up, the remedy for the lust of the flesh: fasting.
This one is hard for me, I’ll admit it. But I suppose it’s hard for most people. It’s part of our nature to want things easy and to go our way according to our likes, and for us to avoid things we don’t like. Lent is coming up and there will be many people suggesting that we don’t give up something for Lent but that we do something instead. But that misses the whole point of what fasting is and what it’s for. Fasting is the way we build our spiritual muscles which we’ll never do if we don’t exercise them. If we can’t (or won’t) even fast for a few days, how do we ever expect to cast out those demons who are driven out only by prayer and fasting?
“And he said to them: This kind can go out by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.”Mark 9:29, Douay-Rheims Bible, public domain.
Those are words from the Word Himself. I don’t see anyway aroud that. If we think we know more about the spiritual life than the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity–well, I’m not willing to go there, let me tell you. I know that I know very little for all the seeking and reading and studying and thinking and praying I’ve done (and not nearly enough of that last one).
Jesus pointed out the three temptations by what He faced in the desert after His baptism, before He began His public ministry. He gave us three remedies in the Sermon on the Mount. Some may be willing to put their own ideas above those of the Lord Himself but I am not one of them, and I recommend that you not be one of them, either.
(I also recommend that if you do fast that you don’t jump on social media and announce to the world, “Hey, looky here, I’m fasting, y’all!” It’s not only unwise but also obnoxious. Honestly, does everyone have to announce everything to everyone else? Don’t. Please. Just don’t.)
Dr. Pitre gives examples from the great masters of the spiritual life through the centuries who identify fasting as central to the Christian life. He quotes Saints Basil the Great, Gregory the Great, and Francis de Sales. He quotes Jesus as saying “When you fast,” not “If you fast.”
“Jesus does not consider fasting to be optional.”Introduction to the Spiritual Life, by Brant Pitre, page 218, ebook.
Here Dr. Pitre makes an interesting point. God commanded Adam to fast, to “control his desire to eat.” (See Genesis 2:17.) Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden but all of us are born into a fallen world “with a disordered craving for the pleasure of food…” St. John called this the “lust of the flesh” in 1 John 2:16. Fasting is “about reversing the effects of the Fall by training the desires of the body to obey the will of the soul” (emphasis in the original, see page 221, ebook). There is also a link between outward fasting and interior repentance. And prayer joined with fasting is powerful indeed. Powerful enough to cast out demons. Well, with faith in Christ and through His grace acting in us. It’s not magic. And it’s not their sin keeping the disciples from casting out demons, but their lack of fasting.
And there’s another aspect to fasting.
“[F]asting is not just something to do in imitation of Jesus. It is about union with Jesus.”Ibid., 237. Emphasis in the original.
Christ fasted in the desert. He didn’t give up something else because that would be negative, He fasted, I mean, He really fasted, in a desert, for forty days and nights. And we are called by the Church to fast in a much less radical manner as a way of being with Him in His suffering during Lent. It seems like the least we can do. We dare not opt out of doing at least that much.
Fasting, says Basil the Great, can teach us to completely avoid avarice, greed, and every kind of vice. (See his Second Homily on Fasting, 5, quoted in Intro, 238.) Christian fasting is not about losing weight or detoxing or clearing our minds or establishing healthy habits or getting our bodies healthy or anything else other than uniting with Christ in His suffering and taming the wild beeast of our desires so that we can rule them rather than allowing them to rule us.
Next time, Almsgiving, the remedy for the lust of the eyes.
Thanks for visiting the blog and reading. I hope you’ll join me on this Quest and that we can help each other to become saints. Yes, SAINTS! Pray for me, and know that I pray for you. God bless you and may His Peace be always with you. +JMJ+
Catholic Book of the Month TOC, Annotated
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Notes and Links
- The Catholic Book of the Month for January 2022 is Introduction to the Spiritual Life: Walking the Path of Prayer with Jesus, by Brant Pitre: Hardcover, Kindle. (Amazon affiliate links, see Full Disclosure below.)
- There are a lot of books on the spiritual life listed in a post I did a few years ago on Dr. Pitre’s audio course on Spiritual Theology. There are links in that post for some of those books in PDF format for free at archive.org.
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Image: in the banner, same one the cover of the book uses: The Road to Emmaus (or The Way to Emmaus), by Robert Zund, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain. Jesus casts out a demon, from Matthew 12:22, by Gustav Doré, public domain.
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