- Title: Studies in Soul Tending or Pastoral Work in its Relation to the Individual
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Prayer in General
- 3. Fasting
- 4. Fasting Communion
- 5. Meditation
- 6. Intercession
- 7. Scheme of Private Devotion
- 8. Thoughts of Divine Immanence in Worship
- 9. Priest’s Relations with His People
- 10. On the Practice of Auricular Confession
- 11. Treatment of Individual Souls
- 12. The Sick
- 13. Care in Preparation for Reception of the Holy Communion
- Appendix: Standard Theological Works
THE exercise of fasting serves other purposes than that of spiritual discipline. When observed judiciously in moderation, and not followed by the reaction of over-eating, it forms a change which is by all physicians recognised as beneficial to the general health. If there be cases in which the practice has been found injurious this is generally owing either to its being overdone, whether as regards length of time or degree of abstinence, or, on the other hand, to lack of judgment in its method, e.g. when prolonged abstinence is accompanied by active exercise or other form of physical strain.
Fasting gives a man clearness of brain and suitableness of frame for mental or spiritual activity, and more especially for such exercises as meditation and prayer. In order that prayer may be offered to the best effect, the mind should be in its freshest and most vigorous condition, and to this condition fasting, when properly conducted, is distinctively helpful.
You sometimes hear the remark made: “I have tried fasting and find that its effect is only that of making me sleepy and stupid and unfit for any real spiritual effort.” Such an assertion embodies a sad admission, namely, that the speaker has never yet set himself to give a fair trial to this most important religious exercise. It is certainly true that fasting, 20
when taken up as an occasional or sporadic action, usually carries with it the effect just described.
Undertaken in this manner the practice may be rather a hindrance than a help to spiritual life; may be productive of irritability and peevishness, and dis inclination for any sort of effort. It is a duty which can be successively and beneficially observed only after suitable training both of mind and of body.
The man must not attempt too much at first, nor should he allow himself to be discouraged by failure in his earlier efforts. The body needs to be trained by gradual deprivation of ordinary nourishment to the extent of bringing about a feeling, not of hungry craving, but rather of indifference to animal appetite, a state of physical quiescence as it were. The stage of hunger and sleepiness will in any case if the abstinence be prolonged probably be followed by a condition such as this.
The following form of experience is probably a common one. At the ordinary hour for meals the appetite will usually assert itself, and a certain measure of self-control will be requisite in order to subdue the tendencies towards apathy and irritability. When that time has passed these sensations will, of their own accord, subside, and the body will return to its state of quiescence and the mind to its condition of capability for devotional activity. In referring to my own experience I am not limiting the subject to its devotional aspect. On one occasion while on a canoe expedition in the wilds north of the St. Lawrence, we had fallen short of provisions, and it became necessary to limit our meals to two during the day, that is to say, a morning and an evening meal. The important place taken by each meal in the strenuous
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life which a journey of this sort implies is familiar to all who have taken part in such life. On the first day of such abstinence, when the time for the ordinary midday meal arrived I was overcome by a sense of utter exhaustion, and the labour of doing my part in the work of paddling seemed almost too much for my powers of endurance. I was naturally filled with consternation, wondering how I should hold out during the privations which lay before us if I broke down at the outset. But I was happily reassured when, the meal hour having passed, I felt my strength returning, and the sense of inner emptiness and exhaustion having passed away, I was able to continue my portion of the day’s work without serious discomfort.
The body having been reduced to the state of quiescence just referred to, a condition follows which as regards sensation (or rather diminution of sensation) may in some measure remind us of the progress towards Nirvana which is the aim of the Buddhist’s life. 1 The mind is set at liberty to carry on its exercises unimpeded. No doubt some of the most pleasurable forms of sensation of which life is capable are to be found in the practice of contemplation when the mind exercises itself under the influence of fasting, when it is practically untrammelled by the feelings of the body.
One leading aim in the practice of fasting is that of bringing the bodily, as well as the spiritual, system into harmony with the character of God. So far its 1 The Buddhist’s idea is that the cause of evil is sensation, be it of pleasure or pain. The idea of happiness is that of abolition of sensation. So a man by training brings himself to a condition in which he is no longer conscious either of pleasure or pain. This is attained by self-denial, living on the simplest kind of diet, and at the same time overcoming the tendency to self-indulgence and self-seeking by seeking to benefit others. His aim is that of subduing in himself anything which tends to produce pleasure or pain.
resemblance to Buddhism holds good. The difference between Buddhism and Christianity consists in the further motive, which is really the highest and the principal motive, namely, that of simple love for God, and the giving forth of the soul to Him in the use of means which are calculated to promote the approach thus aimed at. The desire for nearness to God, and the capacity for doing His will because He wills it, apart from the ulterior desire to acquire benefit, whether spiritual or otherwise, for one’s self, this is the motive which stands alone as the noblest and the highest of which creature life is capable. In Buddhism the motive for self-denial is simply that of self-development, self-improvement; in Christianity it is that of love only; love first towards God, and secondly, towards mankind for God’s sake, as being made in God’s image.
This is, then, the great motive to be aimed at in the practice of fasting, as in all other religious exercises.
As we have already seen, the effects of fasting on the intellect, even as a mere physical exercise, are decidedly beneficial. Those who have given the practice a fair trial will certainly bear witness to the wonderful clearness of brain, as well as the sense of inward calm and superiority to incidental cares, which is the natural consequence of the bodily condition thus induced. This is accompanied by a sense of mental vigour and capacity for spiritual thought.
Fasting, almost of itself, has a purifying effect on the mind and an elevating effect on the spirit. One reason for this probably lies in the physical fact that the energies are not being absorbed in the work of digestion.
Of course, the thing may be overdone, and it is, therefore, necessary to regulate this practice carefully c
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in accordance”with its evident operation on body, mind, and spirit. The Christian’s duty, undoubtedly, includes the nurture of his body as the instrument given him for working out the glory of God, the well-being of man, and his own salvation. The charge of this instrument calls for his most careful attention in order to keep it in full and effective working order; this is to be borne in mind as an aim to be kept in view, although subordinate to the higher motive of pure, unselfish love towards God. A remembrance of the object which he has in view in so doing will guard him against anything like indulging or pampering the body as such. At the same time it may be observed that the practice followed by many saintly persons although, perhaps, seldom to any serious extent in these present days of macerating and enfeebling the body by an undue and exaggerated observance of the exercise of fasting, is clearly a contravention of the purpose, just considered, for which the body was given us, namely, to be made the temple of the Holy Ghost, and an instrument for the active promotion of the glory of God.
It is, therefore, an unquestionable duty to keep the body in a state of fitness and readiness, fully equipped at all points, for the fulfilment of this object. ” Menssana in corpore sano ” must be the priest’s maxim as regards his attention to his own personality in its mental and physical aspects.