Advice from St. Francis de Sales on whether to fast as a personal mortification

March 10, 2022 • 2 min

#Penance #Morals

From The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, page 213
By His friend, Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Belley

He asked me one day if it was easy for me to fast. I answered that it was perfectly easy, as it was a rare thing for me to sit down to table with any appetite. “Then,” he rejoined, “do not fast at all.” On my expressing great astonishment at these words, and venturing to remind our Blessed Father that it was a mortification, strongly recommended to us by God Himself.

“Yes,” he replied, “but for those who have better appetites than you have. Do some other good work, and keep your body in subjection by some other mode of discipline.” He went on, however, to say that fasting was, indeed, the greatest of all corporal austerities, since it puts the axe to the root of the tree. The others only touch the bark lightly; they only scrape or prune it. Whereas when the body waxes fat it often kicks, and from this sort of fatness sin is likely to proceed.

Those who are naturally sober, temperate, and self-restrained have a great advantage over others in the matter of study and spiritual things. They are like horses that have been well broken in, horses which have a strong bridle, holding them in to their duty.

He was no friend to immoderate fasting, and never encouraged it in his penitents, as we see in his Introduction to a Devout Life, where he gives this reason against the practice: “When the body is over-fed, the mind cannot support its weight; but when the body is weak and wasted, it cannot support the mind.” He liked the one and the other to be dealt with in a well-balanced manner, and said that God wished to be served with a reasonable service; adding that it was always easy to bring down and reduce the bodily forces, but that it was not so easy a matter to build them up again when thus brought low. It is easy to wound, but not to heal. The mind should treat the body as its child, correcting without crushing it; only when it revolts must it be treated as a rebellious subject, according to the words of the Apostle: I chastise my body and bring it into subjection. [1 Cor. ix. 27.]

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