Habituation refers to weakened responses to continually repeated stimuli. Consciously and unconsciously, we become accustomed to many activities, routines and habits that we perform, robot-like, having long forgotten their origins or purpose.
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace [Romans 6:12-14].
Fasting breaks the monotonous reenactment of habitual rituals to which we may be physically and intellectually shackled. This should not suggest that fasting represents a clinical remedy for physiological dependence. A person unable to avoid abnormal dependency or substance abuse will not likely have the will power and self-control to undertake a successful fasting regime.
Beware of limiting the good of fasting to mere abstinence from meats. Real fasting is alienation from evil. “Loose the bands of wickedness.” Forgive your neighbor the mischief he has done you. Forgive him his trespasses against you. Do not “fast for strife and debate.” You do not devour flesh, but you devour your brother. You abstain from wine, but you indulge in outrages. You wait for evening before you take food, but you spend the day in the law courts.
Woe to those who are “drunken, but not with wine.” Anger is the intoxication of the soul, and makes it out of its wits like wine . . . In a word, whatever passion makes the soul beside herself may be called drunkenness. . . . Drunkenness dare not receive the Lord; it drives away the Spirit. Smoke drives away bees, and debauch drives away the gifts of the Spirit . . . Wilt thou see the nobility of fasting? [St. Basil, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace].
Fasting works best when it is an integral part of a worldview based on spiritual affirmations encompassing the entire life process.
Just One Day
Nevertheless, most people feel confident they can quit. Whether it is smoking, alcohol, drugs, or any other undesirable habit, excessive indulgence or detrimental pastime, we are convinced we can stop at will.
However, to reestablish control and confidence, we must first abstain for just one day. When our bodies demand the chemicals, or our minds insist on the customary cravings, we must begin by recognizing the lamentable state to which we have descended. And, for just one moment in our ceaseless relapsing, we must pause and turn to God.
Fasting can be very disagreeable. Withdrawal from accustomed levels of eating and from accommodated social habits can produce unpleasant physical and psychological reactions. Yet, fasting also can convey us to a reality free of many of our contemporary distractions. Indeed, fasting should produce an upheaval that prods and provokes remembrance of God.
Fast to leave a lifetime of self-abusive habits. Treat your self to a dose of nothing. Cure that sickness caused by too much of everything other than God.
Once a Month
Once a month, at least, leave alone craving thoughts and restless ambitions. Slip out of the immediately pressing, pass by the regretfully distant, look into your procrastinated future – and pray.
How brave the fight they waged to master their evil habits! What pure and straightforward purpose they showed toward God! By day they labored and by night they spent themselves in long prayers. Even at work they did not cease from mental prayer. They used all their time profitably; every hour seemed too short for serving God, and in the great sweetness of contemplation, they forgot even their bodily needs. They renounced all riches, dignities, honors, friends, and associates. [Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ]