Monday, February 15, 2010

New Book by Msgr. Charles Murphy: The Spirituality of Fasting

Just in time for Lent, comes this book by Msgr. Charles Murphy on Fasting. I heard an interview with him on Teresa Tomeo's Catholic Connection this morning about the book and I highly recommend it. He goes through the history of fasting in Christianity.  You can listen to Teresa's interview of Msgr. Murphy in this audio Catholic Connection archive at Ave Maria Radio for February 15, 2010

Every now and then, I hear someone say, "Vatican II did away with fasting". It's usually the same people who tell me that Vatican II did away with Confession and the Sunday Mass obligation. That was wishful thinking. According to Msgr. Murphy, fasting is good for us from a spiritual standpoint. I have to agree with him because much of what I heard him say about fasting, has been preached from the pulpit at Grotto, and at our conferences. Msgr. Murphy encourages fasting even outside of the two required days of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

What I remember as a kid, growing up, was the catechism teacher telling us that we didn't need to give things up (using the old line that such things were for children, not for older kids and adults). The line of reasoning was that we give up other things, like arguing, or we do some form of service in place of giving something up.

Msgr. Murphy addresses these things. How is it different? Consider that Christ himself fasted, and he encouraged fasting. How can we not want to imitate Our Lord's example?

Now, if you are diabetic the last thing you want to do is fast. Follow your doctor's recommendations to maintain your blood sugar level. However, watch more diligently your portions.  Do you prefer fried fish?  Eat baked fish, even if you don't like it.  If you prefer to have beef over chicken, eat the chicken.  If you don't like leftovers, eat leftovers - get it?  Do you put artificial sweetener or milk in your coffee or tea? Give it up.  Change the meal plan up a bit to things that are less desireable, but will still keep the blood sugar in check. There are lots of things diabetics, and others with food related problems can do, if fasting is not an option. 

There is also fasting from music, from television, the internet, and other things.  Since there are so many spiritual things available through the web, and on Catholic TV stations like EWTN, and programs on Ave Maria Radio which will focus on Lent, perhaps you give up the secular stuff

Here is an excerpt of a review at Our Sunday Visitor. (emphasis mine in bold; comments in red)

How fasting fuels spiritual growth, charity
The ancient practice has fallen out of fashion among Catholics, but it helps us detach from the material world and creates an empty space for God to fill
Fasting and abstinence were once staples of Catholic life. There was a time not so long ago when you could spot Catholics in a restaurant simply by looking at what was on their plates on a Wednesday or Friday.

But with changes in Church rules and individual mindsets, fasting slowly began to fall out of fashion. Today, in popular Catholic culture at least, fasting is often considered a quaint practice of days gone by, something that pales in comparison to doing charitable works.

And yet fasting is one of the three pillars of Lent, equal to prayer and almsgiving in the trilogy of practices for the season. In fact, fasting is woven into the fabric of many of the world’s religions — Judaism, Islam, Buddhism — in one fashion or another.

Why is fasting so important? Because learning to do without, especially when the sacrifice is made on behalf of another, helps to free our bodies and spirits from the worldly desires that threaten to pull us off our spiritual path.

Undercurrent of prayer
In fasting, we open up a space, both literally and figuratively, and allow God to squeeze in among all the other things that lay claim to our attention.

“Food is an obsession in our culture, and I really think we need wisdom from the Church about eating,” Msgr. Charles M. Murphy, author of “The Spirituality of Fasting: Rediscovering a Christian Practice” (Ave Maria Press, $12.95), told Our Sunday Visitor. “It’s a basic human activity, and there is wisdom in this whole tradition of fasting, which is focused on God and not on ourselves.”

Msgr. Murphy said it’s important to distinguish fasting from dieting and medically supervised programs because fasting is not about fitness or “right eating” or ecology. [a point I have heard Fr. Perrone make often].  Just as almsgiving without prayer is simply philanthropy, fasting without prayer is simply a strict diet. Prayer must be the undercurrent that supports fasting or it becomes one more self-centered act designed to make us more appealing according to worldly standards, not godly standards. Fasting is first and foremost an act of humility before God.

“It’s creating an empty space for God to fill. It’s also penitential; it’s an expression of our desire to be converted from sin and selfishness and to remove the effects of sin in our life,” said Msgr. Murphy, explaining that there are two forms of fasting: total and partial. A total fast is eating nothing and drinking nothing for a designated period of time. A partial fast involves giving up specific things for a specific period of time “to undo the effects of sinful patterns, habits, and mindlessness that may have inundated our

The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church; it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!