Not everyone can fast heroically, says St. John Cassian. We need to take our own constitutions into account. The object of fasting is not the fast itself, but its effect: to keep gluttony from turning our minds away from what’s really important.
No single rule can easily be set down for how we should fast, because not everybody has the same strength; nor is it like the rest of the virtues, acquired by steadfastness of mind alone. And therefore, because it does not depend only on mental firmness, since it has to do with the possibilities of the body, I have received this explanation about it, which has been handed down to me.
There is a difference of time, manner, and kind of the refreshment in proportion to the difference of condition of the body, the age, and sex: but there is one and the same rule of restraint to everybody as regards continence of mind, and the virtue of the spirit. For it is impossible for every one to prolong his fast for a week, or to postpone taking refreshment during a two or three days’ abstinence. Many people also who are worn out with sickness, and especially with old age, cannot endure a fast even up to sunset without suffering. The sickly food of moistened beans does not agree with everybody, nor does a sparing diet of fresh vegetables suit all, nor is a scanty meal of dry bread permitted to all alike. One man does not feel satisfied with two pounds; for another a meal of one pound, or six ounces, is too much.
But there is one aim and object of continence in the case of all of these: that no one may be overburdened by gluttony beyond the measure of his appetite. For it is not only the quality, but also the quantity of food taken that dulls the keenness of the mind and, when the soul as well as the flesh is gorged, kindles the noxious and fiery incentive to vice. –St. John Cassian, Institutes, 5.5
IN GOD’S PRESENCE, CONSIDER . . .
When I fast at Lent or at any other time, do I honestly try to abstain to the best of my ability?
Is my fast helping me keep my focus on spiritual things?
Father, when my own weakness discourages me, let me remember your compassion and be filled with hope.
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