Tag Archives: Thomas Aquinas

Fasting and Withdrawal

Temporary Renunciation
The call to fasting exposes our addiction to adopted secular lifestyles. It unmasks our enslavement to a physical existence we call “reality.” Although we attest to a Divine Reality, we find it so difficult to detach ourselves from worldly pleasures for just a few hours.

Fasting confirms our utter dependence upon God by finding in Him a source of sustenance beyond food. [Dallas Willard].

When we undertake a spiritual fast, we choose to withdraw from several aspects of our physical existence. Seeking a connection to the divine, we temporarily renounce our connection to the material world and sever ties to pleasures of the body. We set forth on a personal exodus, a solitary “hijrah,” a temporary retreat from the secular to the sacred.

The purpose of fasting is to loosen to some degree the ties which bind us to the world of material things and our surroundings as a whole, in order that we may concentrate all our spiritual powers upon the unseen and eternal things. [Ole Hallesby].

Perception and Nutrition
During the fast, our perceptions begin to change as we react to reduced levels of energy. Our body adjusts its mental processes and other functions dependent on nutrients (e.g., Krebs cycle). Our senses and the way we perceived reality reflect these physical conditions.

A satiated person thinks in a particular way and therefore formulates theories, understands facts and reaches conclusions quite differently from that of a fasting person.

. . . Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein. And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage . . . [Deuteronomy 8:10 -14].

Fasting on Festive Days
Most religions forbid their adherents from fasting on festive days because abstinence creates an unsocial state of mind, incompatible with the joyous nature of such occasions.

Catholic theologians determined that fasting during Easter and on Sundays is not compatible with the spiritual and mental states desirable on such days.

Accordingly the fasts appointed by the commandment of the Church are rather “fasts of sorrow” which are inconsistent with days of joy. For this reason fasting is not ordered by the Church during the whole of the Paschal season, nor on Sundays: and if anyone were to fast at these times in contradiction to the custom of Christian people . . . he would not be free from sin . . . [St. Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica2a, 2ae, 147].

In Islam, Prophet Muhammad forbade the fasting on its two feast days.

Narrated Abu Sa’id: The Prophet forbade the fasting of ‘Id-ul-Fitr and ‘Id-ul-Adha (two feast days) [Bukhari, Vol. 3, Bk. 31: 212].

It is our desire to remain in a perpetual festival that prevents us from initiating a fast. We prefer a life of entertainment and pastimes to a life of piety and devotion.

Mystical Experiences
Traditionally, we recognize that fasting is a spiritual practice offering unique experiences. Countless individuals have testified to the beneficial effects of abstaining from food.

Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, kindles the true light of chastity. [St. Augustine, On Prayer and Fasting, Sermon lxxii].

These experiences are often esoteric, mystical, or of an abstract nature. The scientific qualities of the reported mystical experiences remain obscure and subject to conflicting interpretations. The biochemical, physiological and other changes that take place during fasting have been studied in only limited situations.

Empirically, when we eat three meals a day – our cereal, toast and eggs, pizza and soft drink, hamburgers, steaks or fried chicken, our rice, ice cream and desserts – we reflect what we consumed in our thinking, speaking and actions. As we reduce food consumption, our physical behavior and mental activity undergo significant changes.

Unfortunately, as our affluence grows, our commitment to spiritual exercises shrinks. Our modern fasting resembles the days of feasting of our pious predecessors.

Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? . . . [Proverbs 30:8-9].

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