By Msgr. Charles M. Murphy
Ave Maria Press, 2010
128 pages, $12.95
To order: avemariapress.com
(800) 282-1865, ext. 1
Is fasting reserved for the season of Lent? Not according to Msgr. Charles M. Murphy, author of The Spirituality of Fasting.
The subject of fasting and abstinence came up when the author, then rector of the North American College in Rome, was dining with Pope John Paul II in 1980.
“What happened to fast and abstinence in the Church in the United States?” the Pope wanted to know. When he was visiting the United States soon after his election, he had observed that fasting and abstinence had seemed to go out of style.
Msgr. Murphy explores the answer to Pope John Paul’s question along with many particulars about ancient and modern-day fasting in this book. He offers many beneficial insights to help renew our own spiritual lives.
“Jesus’ instructions on fasting are situated within the Gospel according to St. Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount,” he writes. “The whole Christian life in all its loftiness and rewards may be found there.”
In a little over 100 pages, Msgr. Murphy shines a very compelling light on the practice and necessity of fasting in our lives today.
He also discusses our preoccupation with food and dieting as well as our dilemma with buying into the consumerist culture. He impresses upon the reader the vital need to lead a simpler life. Dealing with what might seem to go beyond the frame of fasting, Msgr. Murphy gives us an example of how our living with an excess of material goods and using things wastefully does not come from a heart of piety and poverty of spirit.
“The renting of storage space has become a growth industry in our country because we have acquired so much stuff that even our cluttered garages cannot contain it all anymore,” he observes. “Stepping away into the desert perspective of Lent, we can recognize and repudiate the greed, avarice and selfish exploitation that pass for a normal life in a capitalist society, which bases itself on the profit motive and the accumulation of goods as the only measures of personal success. ... Poverty of spirit is more important today than ever as a means to practice social charity.”
The author defines religious fasting as “an act of humility before God, a penitential expression of our need for conversion from sin and selfishness. Its aim is nothing less than helping us to become more loving persons, loving God above all and our neighbor as ourselves.” He explains the purpose of fasting as “the transformation of our total being — mind, body and spirit.” Without its focus on God, we cannot achieve these aims, he reminds us. So, fasting for the sake of dieting does not cut the mustard.
Msgr. Murphy believes that monks and ordinary lay folks are called to the same principles of Christian perfection. He tells us the ancients “were correct in their conviction that prayer and fasting are needed if true charity, unhindered by our selfishness, is to take place at all.”
The author reminds us that Jesus taught us “I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Msgr. Murphy adds, “Fasting and abstinence are part of this greater life that God intends for all of us.”
Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle is a Catholic author and EWTN host of “Everyday Blessings for Catholic Moms.”