the principles of Fasting - 05/07/09 10:59 AM
In the recent Byzcath survey , an interesting and unsettling fact came to light. Less than half of us are fasting outside of preparation for Liturgy, and the fasting that we are performing is often token. We get an A+ for our doctrinal and moral views, and we get a solid A for attending services, but we are flunking at personal asceticism --at less than 50% of people reporting fasting for more than preparation for Communion.
This is doubly disturbing because this is a select group. The people here at Byzcath are not just motivated Catholics (like at Catholic Answers), nor are they just motivated Orthodox (like at OrthodoxChristinaity.net or Monachos.net). The people here at Byzcath are motivated Catholics or Orthodox who also actively desire better relations with their counterparts in the other Church. Byzcath is part of the face of ecumenism in action. Yet, we who are so devoted to the Eastern Tradition of Christianity are by and large omitting personal asceticism by omitting fasting.
I realize that some here genuinely cannot fast: due to age, illness, infirmity, the order of their spiritual director, and so on. But, according to the survey, most of us here are middle aged men, presumably in good health. What's up with that?
I also realize that fasting is personal, that it represents one's personal struggle to overcome temptation on many private fronts, etc.; and therefore people should not judge the neighbor.
Yet, this is a subject we need to discuss -- and we need to move beyond the normal inspirational ideas or recipes.
The very Eastern Fathers whom we like to quote so much also insist that personal asceticism is necessary for the completion of the Gospel within us, as well as carrying it to others.
Moreover, there are no purely private sins. My private sin does affect someone: me. And I, in turn, affect others. And so it goes, in cause and effect, as we can see all around. Our unwillingness as a society to discipline ourselves shows up: in an epidemic of heart disease, diabetes and obesity; in a 50% divorce rate, men who are emotional adolescents, and women who are increasingly single moms; in an unremitting tidal wave of pornography and moral filth and wasteful greed in our culture; in a million children a year who are killed through abortion; in environmental degradation of water, food and air; in a catastrophic decline in religious vocations and in a very disturbing increase in the percentage of people who practice no religion; and so on. The sky isn't falling, but we have heart-disease of the soul: because we aren't controlling what we eat --literally and figuratively.
We are willing to practice self-control and sacrifice to achieve our goals. If it is for future "success" --in school, sports, business, relationships, and so on-- we are willing and eager to practice self-denial.
Our error is assuming that self-control and sacrifice is a short term solution for a problem, instead of a way of life.
Fasting corrects that mindset. Fasting teaches self-control and sacrifice are a way of life. And it does so with the selfless love and compassion of Christ -- which is the only way to overcome the pain-pleasure principle.
The Eastern Church's praxis is time-tested in this regard. It asks people to fast for about half the year: Wednesdays and Fridays, Advent and Lent, the first two weeks of August, and other times of the year too, as well as on the night before receiving Communion. The fasting isn't total, and people can work up to the goal, but the goal is a vegan diet and celibate behavior on the times of fasting. Thus, when fasting becomes a way of life, diet plans and birth control are no longer necessary: because, by the grace of God, we will already have self-control.
I would be really interested in a meaningful conversation on this topic. Not for self-disclosure, and not for recipes and motivational speeches. I would really like to participate in a conversation of the principles of fasting, and how to make them work, and how to entice others to do so as well.
In brief, here is the issue:
In ordinary life, how do we master the psychological mechanism of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, instead of being mastered by it, if *not* through fasting?
Looking forward to your thoughts,