A Catholic Approach to Food & Fasting

Lenten Fasting and Easter Feasting by Christopher West

Bible:

‘Be followers of me brethren: and observe them that walk so as you have our form. For many walk whom often I told you of (and now weeping also I tell you) the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction: whose God, is the belly: and their glory is in their confusion, who mind worldly things.’  ~ Philippians 3:17-19

‘Son in thy life prove thy soul: & if it be wicked, give it not power: for all things are not expedient for all, and every kind pleaseth not every soul. Be not greedy in all feasting, and pour not out thy self upon all meat: for in many meats there shall be infirmity, and greediness shall approach even to choler. Because of surfeit many have died: but he that is abstinent, shall add life.’  ~ Ecclesiasticus 37:30-34

Remove falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches– Feed me with the food allotted to me; Lest I be full and deny You, And say, “Who is the LORD?” Or lest I be poor and steal, And profane the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:8, 9)

Saints:

‘Who is it, Lord, that does not eat a little more than necessary?’  ~ St. Augustine

“If you are able to fast, you will do well to observe some days beyond what are ordered by the Church, for besides the ordinary effect of fasting in raising the mind, subduing the flesh, confirming goodness, and obtaining a heavenly reward, it is also a great matter to be able to control greediness, and to keep the sensual appetites and the whole body subject to the law of the Spirit.”  ~ St Francis de Sales

‘It is so natural for people to seek pleasure in eating and drinking that Saint Paul, teaching early Christians to perform all their actions for the love and glory of God, is obliged to mention eating and drinking specifically, for it is difficult to eat without offending God. Most people eat like animals to satisfy their appetite.’ ~ St. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle

‘A Christian regards food as a remedy; he heeds neither the promptings of greed, nor of sensuality; he avoids delicacies, and the search after anything that flatters the senses; in a word, he thinks only of imitating Jesus Christ, who chose to subject himself to this humiliating action, in order to leave us a model; he has always before his mind that salutary advice which our Lord himself has given us: “Watch carefully over yourselves, that your hearts be not weighed down by the excess of meat and of wine, and that the day of the Lord may not take you by surprise.”  The most efficacious means of keeping in mind the rules of temperance, and obtaining strength to follow them, is to say, piously, the prayer before and after meals. By this we shall draw down upon ourselves the blessing of God, and obtain the grace not to offend Him.’  ~ St. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle

‘If it be the duty of a Christian to pray to God before meals, he is not less bound to thank him after having made use of the gifts which came from his bountiful hand. It is, therefore, necessary to make, after every meal, a short but fervent act of thanksgiving.’ ~ St. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle

‘Do not imagine that the Almighty will, at the time of prayer, infuse his consolations into the souls of those who, like senseless beasts, seek delight in the indulgence of the appetite. “Divine consolation,” says St. Bernard, “is not given to those that admit any other delight.” : Celestial consolations are not bestowed on those that go in search of earthly pleasures.’  ~ St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori

‘Let us then take care not to be conquered by this brutal vice. St. Augustine says, that food is necessary for the support of life; but, like medicine, it should be taken only through necessity. Intemperance is very injurious to the body as well as to the soul.’  ~ St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori

‘He who lives in sin takes up the habits and the appearance of the beasts. The beast, which has not reason, knows nothing but its appetites. So the man who makes himself like the beasts loses his reason, and lets himself be guided by the inclinations of his body. He takes his pleasure in good eating and drinking, and in enjoying the vanities of the world, which pass away like the wind. I pity the poor wretches who run after that wind; they gain very little, they give a great deal for very little profit — they give their eternity for the miserable smoke of the world.’  ~ St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney, the Cure of Ars

‘Take, even bread with moderation, lest a loaded stomach should make you weary of prayer.’  ~ St. Bernard of Clairvaux

‘Your new food is prudent abstinence from gluttony and from delicacies, as far as your natural constitution can endure it. Acts of abstinence that go beyond the capacity of nature are not to my liking, for I demand rationality and the taming of lusts.’  ~ The Lord, to St. Bridget of Sweden

‘If we no longer fulfill the desires of the flesh, then with the Lord’s help the evils within us will easily be eliminated.’  ~ St. Mark the Ascetic

We take food, for example, out of necessity, but while we are eating, a gluttonous spirit creeps in and we begin to take delight in the eating for its own sake; so often it happens that what began as nourishment to protect our health ends by becoming a pretext for our pleasures.’  ~ Pope St. Gregory the Great

‘As long as the vice of gluttony has a hold on a man, all that he has done valiantly is forfeited by him: and as long as the belly is unrestrained, all virtue comes to naught.’  ~ Pope St. Gregory the Great

‘If you have promised Christ to go by the strait and narrow way, restrain your stomach, because by pleasing and enlarging it, you break your contract. Attend and you will hear Him who says: “Spacious and broad is the way of the belly that leads to the perdition of fornication, and many there are who go in by it; because narrow is the gate and strait is the way of fasting that leads to the life of purity, and few there be that find it.”‘  ~ St. John Climacus

The mind of a faster prays soberly, but the mind of an intemperate person is filled with impure idols.’  ~ St. John Climacus

‘When sitting at a table laden with food, remember death and judgement, for even so you will only check the passion slightly. In taking drink do not cease to bring to mind the vinegar and gall of your Lord. And you will certainly either be abstinent, or you will sigh and humble your mind.’  ~ St. John Climacus

‘It is not food that is evil but gluttony, not the begetting of children but unchastity, not material things but avarice, not esteem but self-esteem. This being so, it is only the misuse of things that is evil, and such misuse occurs when the intellect fails to cultivate its natural powers.’  ~ St. Maximos the Confessor

‘I shall speak first about control of the stomach, the opposite to gluttony, and about how to fast and what and how much to eat. I shall say nothing on my own account, but only what I have received from the Holy Fathers. They have not given us only a single rule for fasting or a single standard and measure for eating, because not everyone has the same strength; age, illness or delicacy of body create differences. But they have given us all a single goal: to avoid over-eating and the filling of our bellies. . . A clear rule for self-control handed down by the Fathers is this: stop eating while still hungry and do not continue until you are satisfied.’  ~ St. John Cassian

‘Know that often a devil settles in the belly, and does not let the man be satisfied, even though he has devoured a whole Egypt and drunk a River Nile. But after one has taken food, the unclean spirit goes away and sends against us the spirit of fornication, telling him our condition and saying, “Catch, catch, hound him; for when the stomach is full, he will not resist much.”‘  ~ St. John Climacus

‘Let us ask this foe, or rather this supreme chief of our misfortunes, this door of passions, this fall of Adam, this ruin of Esau, this destruction of the Israelites, this laying naked of Noah’s shame, this betrayer of Gomorrah, this reproach of Lot, this perdition of the sons of Eli, this guide to impurity — let us ask her: From whence is she born? Who are her offspring? Who crushes her? And who finally destroys her?  “Tell us, tyrant of all mortals, you who have bought all with the gold of greed: How did you get access to us? And what do you usually produce after your coming? And what is the manner of your departure from us?”  And gluttony, annoyed by these insults, raving with fury against us foaming, replies:  “Why are you, who are my underlings, overwhelming me with reproaches? Why are you trying to escape from me? I am bound to you by nature. The door for me is the nature of foods. The cause of my insatiability is habit. The foundation of my passion is repeated habit, insensibility of soul, and forgetfulness of death. How do you seek to learn the names of my offspring? If I count them, they will be more in number than the sand. But at least learn the names of my first-born and beloved children.  My first born son is a minister of fornication, the second after him is hardness of heart, and the third is sleepiness. From me proceed a sea of bad thoughts, waves of filth, depths of unknown and unnamed impurities. My daughters are laziness, talkativeness, familiarity in speech, jesting, facetiousness, contradiction, a stiff neck, obstinacy, disobedience, insensibility, captivity, conceit, audacity, love of adornment, after which follows impure prayer, wandering of thoughts, and often unexpected and sudden misfortunes, with which is closely bound despair, the most evil of all my daughters.  The remembrance of falls resists me but does not conquer me. The thought of death is always hostile to me, but there is nothing within men that destroys me completely. He who has received the Comforter prays to Him against me; and the Comforter, when appealed to, does not allow me to act passionately. But those who have not tasted His gift inevitably seek their pleasure in my sweetness.”  The victory [over this vice] is a courageous one. He who is able, let him hasten to dispassion and to the highest degree of chastity.’  ~ St. John Climacus

‘Love, self-restraint, contemplation and prayer accord with God’s will, while gluttony, licentiousness and things that increase them pander to the flesh. That is why “they that are in the flesh cannot conform to God’s will” (Rom. 8:8). But “they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh together with the passions and desires.” (Gal. 5:24)’  ~ St. Maximos the Confessor

‘The passion of self-love suggests to the monk that he should have pity on his body and in the name of its proper care and governance should take food more often than is fitting; for in this way self-love will lead him on step by step to fall into the pit of self-indulgence. On the other hand, self-love prompts those who are not monks to fulfill the body’s desires at once.’  ~ St. Maximos the Confessor

‘Overeating and gluttony cause licentiousness. Avarice and self-esteem cause one to hate one’s neighbor. Self-love, the mother of vices, is the cause of all these things.’  ~ St. Maximos the Confessor

‘Why do demons wish to excite in us gluttony, fornication, greed, anger, rancor and other passions? So that the mind, under their weight, should be unable to pray as it ought; for when the passions of our irrational part begin to act, they prevent the mind from acting rationally.’  ~ St. Nilus of Sinai

“If you have promised Christ to travel the straight and the narrow road, then keep your stomach in check. Begrudge your stomach and your heart will be humbled: please your stomach and your heart will be proud.” ~St. John of the Ladder

‘The inordinate concupiscence may be considered in two ways.  First, with regard to the food consumed: and thus, as regards the substance or species of food a man seeks “sumptuous” — i.e. costly food; as regards its quality, he seeks food prepared too nicely — i.e. “daintily”; and as regards quantity, he exceeds by eating “too much.”  Secondly, the inordinate concupiscence is considered as to the consumption of food: either because one forestalls the proper time for eating, which is to eat “hastily,” or one fails to observe the due manner of eating, by eating “greedily.”‘  ~ St. Thomas Aquinas

‘. . . A capital vice denotes one from which, considered as final cause, i.e. as having a most desirable end, other vices originate: wherefore through desiring that end men are incited to sin in many ways. . . the vice of gluttony, being about pleasures of touch which stand foremost among other pleasures, is fittingly reckoned among the capital vices.’  ~ St. Thomas Aquinas

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Other Resources:

Christian Fasting: Discipling the Body, Awakening the Spirit by Sr. Mary David Totah OSB ~ SUMMARY 

Food That Perishes: An Orthodox Approach to Food and Eating Disorders by Fr. George

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