As Lent is arriving just around the corner, here are some thoughts from St. Francis de Sales as we prepare our hearts and minds for this coming Liturgical season.
1. “Fasting is not a virtue”
Experience shows that some health enthusiasts can fast for reasons such as vanity and looks. As we fast this season, let’s do it well and virtuously.
St. Francis said, “we find some people who think that to fast well during the holy season of Lent it is enough to abstain from eating some prohibited food. But this thought is too gross to enter into the hearts of religious, for it is to you I speak, as well as persons dedicated to our Lord.”
We can think of fasting as the exterior action. Virtue is the interior life. The life of the spirit.
2. Big word alert – Gourmandizing
In case you don’t know the definition, gourmandizing means eating good food to excess. Even outside of Lent, we should be moderate in eating and not fall into gluttony. But Lent is an opportunity for penance. St. Francis said, “since sin entered the world through the mouth, the mouth must do penance by being deprived of foods prohibited and forbidden by the Church, abstaining from them for the space of forty days.”
3. Fasting with whole heart
What does this mean? I would have thought through the normal use of whole-heart that St. Francis means with all our energy and passion. But St. Francis means fasting through all the senses.
St. Francis said, “For if we have offended God through the eyes, through the ears, through the tongue, and through our other senses, why should we not make them fast as well?”
Bonus material: St. Francis adds in addition to the bodily sense, the soul’s powers and passions such as the understanding, the memory, and the will.
4. Practical ideas for fasting with the “whole heart”
To fast for the eyes, we can refrain from frivolous objects.
St. Francis said, “the ears, by depriving them of listening to vain talk which serves only to fill the mind with worldly images.”
“The tongue, in not speaking idle words and those which savor of the world or the things of the world.”
“We ought also to cut off useless thoughts, as well as vain memories and superfluous appetites and desires of our will.”
St. Francis said that the early Christians, “deprived themselves at this time of ordinary conversations with their friends, and withdrew into great solitude and places removed from communication with people.
We have the opportunity to make this season feel different and special. Instead of the usual chit chatting, we can use silence to converse with our Lord.
6. Fasting through humility
St. Francis gives examples of people fasting when they want rather than when they should. He also said some people fast too much or too little. These people are fasting in ways pleasing to their self-will rather than to God’s will for them.
What’s a practical way to fast through humility? St. Francis offers the following when he said, “you are not, says our Lord, to look gloomy and melancholic like the hypocrites do when they fast in order to be praised by men and esteemed as great abstainers. But let your fasting be done in secret.”
7. How much fasting
In the previous point of fasting in secret, it makes sense that we would need to fast in a way that does not hinder our work and responsibilities. For example, if a person has a labor intensive job, they need to eat the proper amount of food to still do their job well.
St. Francis said, “let the strong and robust eat what is ordered them, keeping the fast and austerities which are marked, and let them be content with that.”
8. The spider and the bee
St. Francis said, “do not act like the spider, who represents the proud; but imitate the bee, who is the symbol of the humble soul. The spider spins its web where everyone can see it, and never in secret. It spins in orchards, going from tree to tree, in houses, on windows, on floors-in short, before the eyes of all. In this it resembles the vain and hypocritical who do everything to be seen and admired by others…bees are wiser and more prudent, for they prepare their honey in the hive where no one can see them. Besides that, they build little cells where they continue their work in secret.”
Even though others will not see you giving glory and praise to God, our Lord sees what we do.
9. To please God alone
Piggybacking on the previous point, when we do our work of fasting in secret, we are able to more easily please God alone. St. Francis said this particular point is “what Cassian, that great Father of the spiritual life, teaches us so well in the book of his admirable Conferences.”
Many saints were influenced by Cassian’s book as St. Francis said, “many saints held it in such esteem that they never went to bed without reading a chapter from it to recollect their mind to God.”
Featured image: Wikimedia commons.