Friday, February 23, 2007

Fasting: Creating a void for Christ

I get a little irritated with Cafod, our British branch of Caritas, especially during Lent, for the way it portrays fasting. It seems to give the impression that the purpose of fasting is so that we can save money in order to give it to a third world project, or if not that, at least so we can suffer in solidarity with the hungry.
These are very worthy aims but they miss and distort what fasting is all about.
Fasting is part of the very ancient religious practice of ascetical self denial. A Coptic Orthodox friend prides himself on his Church having 200 fast days a year. Muslim children I know delight in being mature enough to take part properly in the daylight fast of Ramadan.
For a Christian fasting is about learning to be hungry for God, learning to share in some small way in Christ’s suffering. It is related to but diferent from abstinence, giving up a particular type of food like meat or chocolate or sugar. Fasting isn’t just about the absence of food (and drink) but deliberately cutting oneself off from other external stimulations, the media, gossip or unnecessary conversation, even blogging.
Physical hunger creates an interior hunger. All the great spiritual masters would say that fasting should be accompanied by increasing spiritual exercises, our prayer, our spiritual reading and meditation, in short, filling the vacuum we create with Christ. The Pope reminded us that Lent is a time for configuring ourselves more closely to the Crucified Christ. He urged us all to rediscover the significance of fasting as a way of coming closer to Him. Fasting certainly isn’t about weight loss, or even personal growth or even directly about solidarity with anyone except the Crucified.
It is for a Christian about creating and recognising a deep, deep hunger for the Lord and especially in this Lenten season of identifying ourselves with his Passion and Death, from that if, God wills, we learn to act justly, to be generous to the needy.


Fasting makes you light headed so don't fast if are driving or using dangerous machinery.
Fasting makes you tetchey and even short tempered so avoid it if you are having marital problems.
Fasting affects the action of medicines.
It is not advisable for those with a history of psychiatric problems.
Only heretics fast on Sundays and feast days.

It is better done for short periods of a day or two, try Wednesdays and Fridays and the eves of great feasts.


Anonymous said...

I get irritated by CAFOD full stop.

There are too many questions raised about how they spend money and their reported advocacy of the use of condoms for me to feel comfortable giving anything to them.

There are other, more trustworthy, Catholic charities like 'Aid to the Church in Need' where one can feel safe in the knowlegde that any money raised will always be put to good moral use.

Ttony said...

"I get a little irritated with Cafod". Brilliant!

It's almost like the masonic handshake of a Catholic of a less-than-liberal persuasion when meeting a potential confrère. You should start a competition: here are a couple of alternatives:

"I do get a bit annoyed when the priest seems to decide for himself what to do at Mass."

"I wish the Bishops would seem to worry as much about our dioceses as the Third World."

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Please, be more than "irritated" with CAFOD:

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

here's another one:

Physiocrat said...

CAFOD are reputedly quite good about delivering aid where it is needed without too much being lost in "overheads".

But they have done a lot of mischief by misleading people with ill-informed campaigns they have lent their support to like Jubilee 2000 and Make Poverty History.

Mulier Fortis said...

Only heretics fast on Sundays and feast days

*contented sigh* I guess that means that I get to eat a bacon sandwich on Sundays...followed by a bar of chocolate!

Fr Ray Blake said...

I am beginning to have doubts about Cafod's local delivery, I had thought they work through local Churches or religious communities but this seems not to be so according to people in the parish who have family in areas Cafod works in.

I too have very grave misgivings about their ABC (Abstinence, Be faithful, Condoms) policy. When I asked for an explanation I was told Cafod had the complete support of the E/W heirarchy but received no explanation.

AID to the Church in Need doesn't seem to quite be involved in famine relief or helping the poor in the same way.

I think Cafod like the catholic adoption services and one or two other "Catholic" organisations has lost its way, in the Church but not quite of it. It seems to happen when organisations take their eye of Christ and his Church.

Like fasting, without being centred Christ and his Church, it becomes vain.

Anonymous said...

Fasting is not to be undertaken on a Sunday but I am not too sure about abstinence..

Anonymous said...

"Only heretics fast on Sundays and feast days."

Father, I've heard this before. Do you have any references for it? I've had a bit of a look around the internet but haven't really found anything conclusive.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Apart from the references you yourself refer to on your excellent blog, I can't think of any references off the top of my head, obviously the Patria Vita has stories of buildings falling on those who fast on feastdays. Later Monastic Rules forbid fasting (and other ascetical practices), on Sundays and other festal days and seasons, though here we need to draw a distinction between fasting and abstaining.
In the Rule of St Benedict monks, unless they were sick, abstained from all four-footed creatures always.
The liturgy is the best guide to the mind of the Church, although on Sunday it is celebrated as the Resurrection Day, it is still muted, no Allel..., chants unaccompanied, purple or violet vestments, an absence of decorative elements. As the Liturgy, so our lives.

Anonymous said...

"I was told Cafod had the complete support of the E/W heirarchy".

That just about says it all. Good men though the bishops no doubt are, they seemingly have implicit trust in the articulate people who are under their patronage or in their employment on their various committees and departments. Moreover, committee-like organisations by defnition always agree on the lowest common denominator. That is no guarantee of truth even if it is an episopal agreement.

I don't really know what the answer is in terms of getting money to morally acceptable famine relief agencies - unless there is an organisation that has direct links with the dioceses affected.

Given that funds are limited, like Athanasius, I prefer to give funds to ACN simply because I know they are morally acceptable. The money may not go directly to famine relief, but it does go to help the Church's Mission. No way would I support CAFOD in its current set-up - and I very much regret, as a life-long English Catholic, having to take that view.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a great shame that we have lost the Ember Days, the Rogation Days, and nearly all the liturgical Vigils, but CAFOD's randomly chosen 'Family Fast Days' seem to have become part of the calendar.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

No, but Aid to the CHurch I.N,. is about getting money, hard cash, to local churches where they can deal with crises on the ground and from the point of view of insiders. In Africa at least, it is the foreigners who are blanketing the continent with condoms. The local churches are very faithful and they know what to do with a bunch of money. Food, medicine and fresh water to start and no condoms.

Please don't give anything to CAFOD.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post Father,
I was taught no penance on Sundays,... which means I can catch up on my favorite blogs! I love how you said "physical hunger creates an interior hunger." My Spiritual Father, told me that this is a good reason to wait until after Mass to have breakfast, which used to be required.

It should not have to be said, but pregnant women, and nursing mothers should not fast either.

I'll be linking to this post.

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