By Nathaniel Richards
I am not an expert nor am I a spiritual master. However, I hope to be found a disciple of Jesus Christ despite my many personal failings and grievous sins. It is because I have fallen many times and must be humble in my pursuit not to fall again, that I feel I can tell you about the general process of getting back up again. Truly, it is a lifelong process. That said, I would like to provide my own experiences with fasting before I end this series.
Growing up, fasting was something I always heard about in my nascent Oneness Pentecostal tradition, but not often put into ongoing practice. I recall my parents would do it from time to time. Later in life when I began to start coming to a more liturgical mindset of practicing Christianity, I had a general idea about giving up things for Lent or fasting, but I was greatly limited in this endeavor. I would give up social media or would attempt to fast…only to break out my device or succumb to hunger.
Once I was fully within the fold of the Catholic Church, I still had some growing to do. A few years of being a Catholic past before I started practicing abstinence from meat on Fridays. I finally started doing that because there was a priest pastoring the Ordinariate parish I attended at the time who set an example. By embracing the traditional Friday abstinence, I sought a more authentic imitation of Christ in following through with penitential discipline. The Lord gave up His flesh for me on a Friday and I felt compelled to give up eating flesh on Fridays in remembrance of Him. The next Lent I began to water-fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. And was mostly successful—though at midnight those days I would make a quick run to a fast food restaurant.
In 2020, I was invited by a friend to do a highly ascetical program called Exodus 90. It has various disciplines…everything from abstinence from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, to cold showers, to cutting down on technology use and refraining from sweets, along with a commitment to significant prayer. It was a lot. A spiritual 2×4 to the face; an analogy Fr. Donald Calloway likes to employ. I was very zealous for the disciplines in the beginning, but as I went along, and as the COVID-19 pandemic and hysteria heightened, I fell away from my zeal. My cold showers became warmer and warmer. I suddenly became a phone zombie and found excuses to get dessert or thought I was too tired from working some days to do my full holy hour. My effort was laughable on many days of this spiritual exercise.
I failed in many respects. But I also learned. And gained.
I lost weight for starters—something I’ve struggled with most of my life. Water-fasting two days out of the week will melt off the pounds (I changed this part of the Exodus 90 discipline to have continuity with my previous Lent). I also began to spend more time with my family on the days I wasn’t a phone zombie. I was able to read things I wanted to read because I suddenly had the time. And greatest of all…I began to have more time to pray and spend time with the Lord. Not only by myself in the holy hour, but to develop some semblance of family prayer and devotion with my wife.
I am still working on these things. And indeed, post Exodus 90 I am struggling on some of the things I thought I had some victories on. I have gained back some of the weight, and though I generally practice abstinence from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays outside of Lent, it does not take long for the sharp edge that you thought was your spiritual life to dull.
I have not lost hope, however. For I will continue to apply myself to the grindstone that is Jesus, the chief cornerstone (Mt. xxi. 32). He is the Author and Finisher of my faith and indeed the Faith of all the Fathers (Heb. xii. 2). Furthermore, His Body the Church through all her members in the Church Triumphant, Expectant, and Militant are praying for me and alongside me. In these members and brothers I have found in the Church, I see the Truth of Sacred Scripture that “Iron sharpeneth iron, so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Prov. xxvi. 17). All of Heaven is rooting for me—all of the angels and saints. The Lord is still working on me, but I have no cause for despair.
Neither should you. Continue to apply yourself to the grindstone of Christ through fasting and prayer. You will see how the basic building block of prayer that is fasting will help you pray better and to help you see yourself as God sees you…and not how you pretend your spiritual state to be. Fasting is the great reality check and as a cross we carry, it brings to surface the true crux of the matter— “Whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” (Lk. xiv. 27)
In parting, I will say this. We must become disciples who daily commit themselves to hard truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Fasting is a foundation that helps solidify our good aspirations to live the Gospel and bring them from the realm of theory to realistic concreteness. Without fasting, we are living a gospel of cheap grace and nothing substantial. True, one could use fasting as a tool of pride and take it to hyperbolic self-abusive portions. However, the saints show us that while they are extreme, they are also aren’t completely insane. The caricatures of albino self-flagellating monks of Dan Brown thrillers are exactly that—hyperbole and libel. Whereas the saints are a people who get up again after failing and try over and over with help of God’s Grace. With St. Paul we say wholeheartedly, “I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway” (I Cor. ix. 27).
Wherefore it is said in the scripture: Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious. And he that shall believe in him, shall not be confounded. To you therefore that believe, he is honour: but to them that believe not, the stone which the builders rejected, the same is made the head of the corner: And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of scandal, to them who stumble at the word, neither do believe, whereunto also they are set. But you are a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people: that you may declare his virtues, who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Who in time past were not a people: but are now the people of God. Who had not obtained mercy; but now have obtained mercy (I Peter ii. 6-10).
Nathaniel Richards is a Catholic husband and father who lives in the Ozarks. He enjoys collecting Catholic books and promises that one day he will read most of them—eventually, maybe. Starting a Catholic bookstore that sells books rather than gifts is a dream of his. He converted from Oneness Pentecostalism to Anglicanism and eventually made his way to Catholicism in 2015.