Program #0474 for Friday, February 22, 2013: Rediscovering spirituality of fasting

February 22, 2013

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Rediscovering spirituality of fasting

Rediscovering spirituality of fasting

Summary of today’s show: Fasting is one of the three pillars of Lent and of the whole Christian life, including prayer and almsgiving. Scot Landry and Fr. Mark O’Connell talk with Andy LaVallee of and Msgr. Charles Murphy, author of the book “The Spirituality of Fasting”, about rediscovering the practice, the spiritual fruits it provides, the practical aspects of fasting, and a one-day retreat this weekend open to all.

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Mark O’Connell

Today’s guest(s): Msgr. Charles Murphy, Andy LaVallee

Links from today’s show:

Today’s topics: Rediscovering spirituality of fasting

1st segment: Scot Landry welcomed Fr. Mark O’Connell to the show. He said it was a big day at the Pastoral Center where Cardinal Seán celebrated the Mass for the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter to reflect on the ministry of Pope Benedict and of all popes and to reflect on his own ministry. The homily from the Mass will be posted on Cardinal Seán’s Blog tonight after 9pm. Cardinal Seán said we’ll be learning from Pope Benedict’s speeches and writings for lifetimes to come. Fr. Mark said he knows that the attention placed on Cardinal Seán weighs on him and embarrasses him. Scot noted that every Boston media outlet was present for the Mass today. Scot said there will be 116 cardinal-electors in the conclave, where one Indonesian cardinal is too ill to travel to Rome to participate.

2nd segment: Scot welcomed Andy LaVallee and Msgr. Charles Murphy, from the Diocese of Portland, Maine, to the show. Msgr. Murphy had formerly been rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome. They talked about how Pope John Paul II visited the college on this date many years ago after he was first elected pope. Msgr. Murphy talked about how the pope stayed for dinner and he was instructed to serve on bread and soup for Lent. He talked about their conversation over dinner. Among other things they discussed why fasting and abstinence has gone away. Since that time, Msgr. Murphy has written a book on the topic The Spirituality of Fasting: Rediscovering a Christian Practice.

The short answer to the change was that before Vatican II, fasting came under canon law and moral law and was connected to the idea missing the fast as a sin. Pope Paul VI tried to make it more positive and connected it to charity, but that ended up losing the sense of its importance.

On the types of fast, Msgr. Murphy said there is total fast and partial fast. We used to fast from all food and drink from midnight before Sunday Mass to totally empty ourselves to prepare to receive the Lord. Jews fast like this for Yom Kippur. Partial fasting is abstaining from some food and drinks for a more extended period. This has to do with having our sins forgiven in confession, but having the effects remaining in us. Fasting counteracts the selfishness and other effects of sin in us.

Andy didn’t appreciate the power of spiritual fasting until a few years ago and since then he founded to promote fasting. He said fasting is the remedy we want for our society, whether it be addictions or abortion or what’s happening to our family. The website promotes the prayer of fasting together through nutritional breads and a spirit of community. Fasting is something that happens in all faiths, but in the Catholic Church fasting has become a lost art. On the website they promote books about fasting and send out emails every Wednesday and Friday to help people. They now send books and bread to 28 different states.

Scot talked about the decline in Catholic identity and culture which correlates with the decline in fasting. Msgr. Murphy has been asking how do we bring this back in the Church. Pope Benedict has been strong on fasting and integrating body, mind, and experience as all parts of our existence. Families need to make a decision to do this together or a parish or even a whole diocese can call people to practice fasting. He doesn’t think it will happen in the whole Church through canon law.

Andy said people are telling him that for the first time ever they can fast without feeling ill because of the nutritional fasting bread. They even had one man who ran the Boston Marathon while fasting on bread and water on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Scot said he’s heard fasting described as praying intensely with your whole body. Andy said you should always start in prayer and then always have an intention you’re praying for. He also said one should drink plenty of water while on a fast. He said you can’t drink enough water. And it’s always easier to do this when being done with others.

Msgr. Murphy said in his book’s sixth chapter he uses the Eastern Church’s model of fasting. Two Sundays before Lent, they give up meat for all of Lent and the Sunday before they add dairy. Wednesday is a fasting day because it’s the day that Judas betrayed the Lord and Friday because it’s the day of the crucifixion.

Andy said there aren’t enough modern teachings on fasting and the Church’s need for it. He often hears questions from people who are looking for recipes or who have questions related to health issues, like diabetes. He recommends people talk to their doctor and spiritual director. Msgr. Murphy said the biggest obstacle is that people’s lives are in disorder. People aren’t sharing meals together like they used to, so he asks people to eat a family meal together at least one night per week. Eating has to become a thoughtful exercise. Andy said when one eats fasting bread it’s important to chew for 60 seconds or more to get the fullest effect of the nutrition in the bread.

Andy said a fast day starts with prayer, a roll in the morning, plenty of water, go to Mass. He has two or three more rolls or 6 to 8 ounces of bread total in a 24 hour fast.

Msgr. Murphy said families can fast together by designating Wednesday and Friday as days to fast together. They can do it together as a mutual commitment. He thinks fasting has to be a whole regime of putting order in life.

Fr. Mark asked what age should one start fasting. Andy said one can fast from other things like giving up TV or something else until they’re old enough to fast from food. They talked about kids fasting from things they really enjoy and offer it up to God. Andy said fasting is all about sacrifice and controlling our desires.

Msgr. Murphy said prayer, fasting, and charity are three pillars of our faith that comes to us from Judaism and talked about by Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount. He thinks it leads to a mystical experience of God. Andy said through his fasting he became a daily Mass communicant, started praying the rosary and was able to have what he calls a maximum re-conversion.

Tomorrow, they are having a retreat called Equip for the Wilderness at St. Mary Parish in Waltham. Andy said they ran a similar retreat in Advent. It’s about bringing back awareness of prayer and fasting through four speakers. The speakers are Msgr. Murphy, Fr. Michael Sevigny, and Mother Olga Yaqob. Find a link to the retreat at the top of this page. Andy said you won’t be forced to fast. LaVallee’s Bakery is providing cookies and special croissants among other things. He talked about how the first retreat had only a few people had fasted before, but at the end of the retreat they signed up 60 people with fasting kits.

Msgr. Murphy related how he met some Buddhist monks who were trying to encourage the Japanese people to bring their faith into their homes. They started a skip-a-meal program in which they pick a day to skip a meal, to spend the time praying, and to give the money saved to charity.

Andy said you get so much joy from fasting that you start to look forward to the next fast day.

Scot asked Msgr. Murphy about his many encounters with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in his work on the Catechism of the Catholic Church before he was elected pope and asked him about his thoughts on the recent news. He recalled seeing the Holy Father a few years ago and told him how proud he was to have worked with the Holy Father on the project. the Holy Father became very animated and said he was proud of that work too. Scot asked what he will be remembered most for. Msgr. Murphy said it will be his first encyclical, God is Love (Deus Caritas Est). Its message was that our faith is a positive message, not condemnatory. Andy said the Pope’s 2009 Lenten message is an incredible message on fasting in which he said fasting is a great aid in avoiding sin. Andy said the second encyclical “Charity in Truth” is also great for Catholic businessman especially.

3rd segment: Now as we do every week at this time, we will consider the Mass readings for this Sunday, specifically the Gospel reading.

  • First Reading for the Second Sunday of Lent (Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18)

The Lord God took Abram outside and said,
“Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.
Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.”
Abram put his faith in the LORD,
who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.

He then said to him,
“I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans
to give you this land as a possession.”
“O Lord GOD,” he asked,
“how am I to know that I shall possess it?”
He answered him,
“Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat,
a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”
Abram brought him all these, split them in two,
and placed each half opposite the other;
but the birds he did not cut up.
Birds of prey swooped down on the carcasses,
but Abram stayed with them.
As the sun was about to set, a trance fell upon Abram,
and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him.

When the sun had set and it was dark,
there appeared a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch,
which passed between those pieces.
It was on that occasion that the LORD made a covenant with Abram,
saying: “To your descendants I give this land,
from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates.”

  • Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent (Luke 9:28b-36)

Jesus took Peter, John, and James
and went up the mountain to pray.
While he was praying his face changed in appearance
and his clothing became dazzling white.
And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah,
who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus
that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep,
but becoming fully awake,
they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus,
“Master, it is good that we are here;
let us make three tents,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
But he did not know what he was saying.
While he was still speaking,
a cloud came and cast a shadow over them,
and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.
Then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.
They fell silent and did not at that time
tell anyone what they had seen.

Scot said the moment of the transfiguration was important for the Apostles to experience even if they didn’t understand it at the time so they would know who Jesus was. Msgr. Murphy talked about being at Mount Tabor on a pilgrimage, sleeping on the mountaintop and experiencing a cloud that covered the mountain like in the Gospel. The goal of the Christian life is to be transformed. In eastern spirituality, it’s divinization in which we take on God’s divinity. That’s the goal of prayer, fasting, and charity. That transformation of Christ is something that should happen in our lives as well. While Jesus predicts the Passion, he also reassures them by showing them what will happen on the other side of the Passion.

Scot said you can sum up Christian discipleship by repeating, “Listen to Him.” Andy said we need to put down the phones, get in silence, and listen to Him. He recalled the Wedding Feast at Cana where our Lady says, Do as He tells you. Fr. Mark said the readings have journeys that aren’t easy that lead to a powerful experience of God, which goes well with the discussion on fasting.

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