The Joy of Spiritual Fasting

May 1, 2023

There are three things, my brethren, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives.

St. Peter Chrysologus

Christ the King

We don’t often associate fasting with joy in today’s world.

But, fasting was often considered by the Church Fathers as a life long rule filled with joy. This was because fasting leads to discipline of both body and soul. And, then to joy because of such intimacy with God. It may not start with joy, but certainly ends there.

This type of attitude stemmed from the Rule of Saint Benedict in the monastic tradition as the desert Fathers practiced spiritual fasting to order their desires and passions. In this way, desires for food and drink and other passions did not become addictions but remained ordered and directed towards closeness to God.

This type of life is no different from what we should be practicing as lay people in the way of regimen, practice, consistency, and motivation.

This spirit of joy and intimacy with God then leads to love of neighbor.

St. Peter Chrysologus describes fasting as one of the most important legs of the 3 footed stool: Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving.

The fasting actually strengthens the prayer and eating less enables us to give money to the poor. We also learn to make good use of our leftover time that we would have spent on food prep and eating on service to others. He exhorts that this leads us to joy and that we are really only happy when we serve others and are truly slightly hungry on a regular basis.

This makes us hungry for God—our true food.

I think of this as no different from weightlifting of sorts—there is no accomplishment in the body without spending the time and energy getting to the gym, lifting, and stretching. Regimen, practice, consistency, and motivation are all needed to accomplish the goal.

Delaying and Praying our food and drink is challenging but necessary to be truly happy because it trains the will to do what is right and ordered. This order elevates our whole life.

Regular and consistent Spiritual Fasting brings unity of flesh and spirit, body and soul. It makes us aware of our bodies, our thoughts and emotions, and how we are actually utilizing our time. It improves our health by giving our bodies a rest from food at certain times of the day and deepens the spiritual life by creating good and long-lasting habits that turn into virtuous actions.

And, those virtuous actions eventually bring us to heaven. True joy.

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