By Nathaniel Richards
For you have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin (Heb. xii. 4)
While Satan—the Enemy of our soul—is not God and cannot be everywhere at once, he never sleeps or takes a vacation. At all hours, somewhere in the world he and the other foul spirits in his ranks are hard at work—trying to destroy souls so they may not serve Almighty God. Besides striving to ensure the faithless stay deprived of God, the Enemy also does his due diligence to try to see how many casualties he can inflict in the Army of the Lord Jesus. This army consists of those of us who are still working out our salvation with “fear and trembling” on earth in the Church Militant (Philip ii. 12). Temptation and the allure of the world, the flesh, and the Devil always blip on the radar of a Christian soul. Throughout our whole lives, we are in unrelenting battle against this triumvirate of vice; granted, we might be afforded periods of repose, but we can expect no lasting peace in this life. I have written the battle that faces Christians elsewhere, in this piece I would like to begin a series to address the “how” of our battle — ways we can begin to fight.
The Problem of Beginning
Brethren in Christ, we must begin to wage battle by fasting and doing penance. This is the way of the saints, the way of the Faith of our Fathers. Prophets, Apostles, and Our Lord Himself fasted and therefore have set a biblical precedent for the practice in our own day. By abstaining from the things we enjoy or require for nourishment, we are shown the things that are more important than physical health—namely, the things that will feed and sustain our souls. We must hunger for sanctity; truly, we must allow these pangs of ascetic discipline to hone our focus on what God wants from us. In diverting our gaze from the world and departing from its noise, we become attuned to the silence where the Triune God speaks. For as Elijah found out, the Lord often speaks in a still, small voice (III Kngs xix. 11-13). We must stop and listen, yes, but also in this silence our soul learns to converse. Fasting helps us to do this.
Fasting is a basic form of prayer. It teaches us how to pray and is a foundation for greater contemplation, and is valuable and essential. Without it, our defenses as Christians are lowered. We need to survive spiritually—lest we die in the shipwreck of sloth and acedia.
It should not come as a shock that in the West we Christians have largely forgotten how to fast. Our defenses against the Enemy are compromised. The normative ways of penance that previous generations of Catholics practiced are at present a footnote in history; out of sight and out of mind. The old disciples appear quaint and odd-sounding to our ears when we do hear of them. Especially in the United States, we have forgotten that Fridays are when the Church abstains from meat and are the default days for penance. Yes, the US Bishops have said that you can do an alternative penance on Friday…but do we fulfill this obligation? Abstaining from meat is hard, and therefore something equally as difficult must be done instead. I would venture that very few Catholics do, or even know to do this. As a result, our armor is shoddy—our souls exposed to the fiery darts of the Evil One because we do not arm ourselves with the Tradition of the Church in this regard (Eph. vii. 16). Both our ignorance and apathy have done us in.
Perhaps you might think my assessment of the present-day Catholicism bleak. Perhaps you might think I am overly dramatic. I doubt that I am, though. And believe my doubt is well-founded, especially as I look to the Faith of the Fathers and to Sacred Tradition. Compared to the Catholics of old and our Fathers in ages past, we are spiritual infants. Our spiritual muscles are weak and flabby. We are effeminate and soft, as my fellow MOC contributor Kennedy Hall says in his book Terror of Demons and lack physical and spiritual fortitude. The Giants of Catholic Tradition are looking at all of us eating a double cheeseburger on Friday and—I use this phrase not irreverently, I hope, but to make a point—saying, “Bro, do you even lift?”
Nah. We really don’t. Not like they did—not at all.
It is not too late, though. God has given us Grace and the tools of the Church to help our souls commune with Him.
In my next piece we will discuss further some practical measures to enact the principles of fasting in our lives.
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.