John Cassian: Fast of the Soul

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Then He returned to His disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with Me for one hour?” He asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may Your will be done.” When He came back, He again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So He left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. Matthew 26:40-44

“For it is not an external enemy whom we have to dread. Our foe is shut up within ourselves: an internal warfare is daily waged by us: and if we are victorious in this, all external things will be made weak, and everything will be made peaceful and subdued for the soldier of Christ. We shall have no external enemy to fear, if what is within is overcome and subdued to the spirit. And let us not believe that that external fast from visible food alone can possibly be sufficient for perfection of heart and purity of body unless with it there has also been united a fast of the soul.”

John Cassian (c. 360-435) in Institutes (The Twelve Book on the Institutes of the Coenobia and the Remedies for the Eight Principal Faults), Book 5 – The Spirit of Gluttony, chapter 21 – “Of the inward peace of a monk, and of spiritual abstinence.”

While traveling I am finding inspiration from my favorite monks. Yesterday Merton, today Cassian, and you will have to wait until tomorrow to see who comes next. Today I fly from Buenos Aires to Auckland, New Zealand. This will be a long flight. I am hoping to get some sleep and spend some time praying. I’m seeking God’s heart to help me refine a GTP training document.

A friend messaged me and said he was struggling with the desire for prayer. His situation reminds me of the words of Jesus, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Can you relate? Perhaps a nap might help? After that, consider fasting from food and having a fast of the soul to help you be more watchful and alert.

What does this have to do with generosity? We can’t win the war within alone. We only win it by watching and praying. The opposite of watching and praying is falling into temptation. What are your temptations? There is a wide range of temptations for people. In plain terms, we crave things in place of Christ. What are you craving in place of Christ?

Cassian would say to fast from food and ask Christ to reveal those things to you. The inward battles may actually be what hinders your generosity. They are the weights we must lay aside and the sins that so easily beset us and try to keep us from running the race set before us with perseverance (Hebrews 12:1-2). Combine external fasting with a fast of the soul.