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Council of Trent: Uprooting all sin

For everything in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — comes not from the Father but from the world. 1 John 2:16

“Pastors should teach that all kinds of satisfaction are reducible to three heads: prayer, fasting and almsdeeds, which correspond to three kinds of goods which we have received from God, those of the soul, those of the body and what are called external goods.

Nothing can be more effectual in uprooting all sin from the soul than these three kinds of satisfaction. For since whatever is in the world is the [lust] of the flesh, the [lust] of the eyes, and the pride of life, everyone can see that to these three causes of disease are opposed also three remedies. To the first is opposed fasting; to the second, almsdeeds; to the third, prayer.

Moreover, if we consider those whom our sins injure, we shall easily perceive why all kinds of satisfaction are reduced especially to these three. For those (we offend by our sins) are: God, our neighbour and ourselves. God we appease by prayer, our neighbour we satisfy by alms, and ourselves we chastise by fasting.”

The Council of Trent (1545-1563) in “The Catechism of the Council of Trent” (John A. McHugh and Charles J. Callan, 1923) 189.

The Council of Trent drew from the rich legacy of the church. Therein we find quotes from Augustine, Chrysostom, and many other saints in church history.

We also find that fasting, praying, and almsdeeds are presented as three primary practices that minister to our soul and our body. They teach us how to relate to earthly goods and work to uproot all sin from our lives.

Notice that the Council urges pastors to teach this. Pastors, pay attention! Urge prayer so people connect with God. Call for alms to show love of neighbor. Exhort fasting to save us from ourselves.

It is fitting that I quote the Council of Trent today as one of my books that I am giving to some of the seminary leaders today is my most recent ECFA Press book, The Council: A Biblical Perspective on Board Governance.

Thanks for your prayers for fruitful meetings at Asbury Theological Seminary. I arrived late last night so I will try to post a beautiful header photo from Kentucky tomorrow.

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Columba of Iona: Fast and Vigils

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Luke 2:36-37

“According to tradition St. Columba was tall and of dignified mien. Adamnan says: “He was angelic in appearance, graceful in speech, holy in work” (Praef., II). His voice was strong, sweet, and sonorous capable at times of being heard at a great distance. He inherited the ardent temperament and strong passions of his race. It has been sometimes said that he was of an angry and vindictive spirit not only because of his supposed part in the battle of Cooldrevny but also because of irritant related by Adamnan (II, xxiii sq.) But the deeds that roused his indignation were wrongs done to others, and the retribution that overtook the perpetrators was rather predicted than actually invoked. Whatever faults were inherent in his nature he overcame and he stands before the world conspicuous for humility and charity not only towards has brethren, but towards strangers also. He was generous and warm-hearted, tender and kind even to dumb creatures. He was ever ready to sympathize with the joys and sorrows of others. His fasts and vigils were carried to a great extent. The stone pillow on which he slept is said to be still preserved in Iona. His chastity of body and purity of mind are extolled by all his biographers. Notwithstanding his wonderful austerities, Adamnan assures us he was beloved by all, “for a holy joyousness that ever beamed from his countenance revealed the gladness with which the Holy Spirit filled his soul”. (Praef., II.)”

Columba (521-597) was abbot of Iona. This account is informed by the writings of Adamnan (624-704) who was abbot of Iona shortly after him. This post is for my mother. My ancestry traces to Iona through her. She was curious to see if I could locate the Lenten disciplines there, and I did (source: New Advent). Thanks for the suggestion, Mom!

While this is not a traditional meditation, I like to make posts like this occasionally to inspire us to think how we want to be remembered: for grace and generosity, for standing up for victims of injustice, and for fasting and vigils (late night or early morning prayers) that released the power of the Holy Spirit in and through our lives.

Columba’s legacy reminded me of Anna in today’s Scripture who was also known for her fasting and praying. No wonder she had such a long and fruitful prophetic ministry. Her worship or service night and day was fasting and praying. Through those disciplines she tapped in to all that is good and blessed others daily in the Temple.

This excerpt about Columba touched me most deeply: “He was generous and warm-hearted, tender and kind even to dumb creatures. He was ever ready to sympathize with the joys and sorrows of others. His fasts and vigils were carried to a great extent.” What a legacy!

Father, make it so for my life and for each one reading this. Thank you for my ancestors and their deep faith. Following in their footsteps, cause our fasting and vigils to shape us into people known for humility, charity, generosity, and kindness by the power the Holy Spirit at work in us. Do this, I ask in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Pray for me as I fly to Houston, Texas, and then to Lexington, Kentucky, today to facilitate meetings of presidents and senior administrators of 13 leading seminaries on Tuesday and Wednesday at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. Pray for wisdom and discernment from the Holy Spirit to serve them well. Thank you.

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Columba of Iona: Fasts and Vigils

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Luke 2:36-37

“According to tradition St. Columba was tall and of dignified mien. Adamnan says: “He was angelic in appearance, graceful in speech, holy in work” (Praef., II). His voice was strong, sweet, and sonorous capable at times of being heard at a great distance. He inherited the ardent temperament and strong passions of his race. It has been sometimes said that he was of an angry and vindictive spirit not only because of his supposed part in the battle of Cooldrevny but also because of irritant related by Adamnan (II, xxiii sq.) But the deeds that roused his indignation were wrongs done to others, and the retribution that overtook the perpetrators was rather predicted than actually invoked. Whatever faults were inherent in his nature he overcame and he stands before the world conspicuous for humility and charity not only towards has brethren, but towards strangers also. He was generous and warm-hearted, tender and kind even to dumb creatures. He was ever ready to sympathize with the joys and sorrows of others. His fasts and vigils were carried to a great extent. The stone pillow on which he slept is said to be still preserved in Iona. His chastity of body and purity of mind are extolled by all his biographers. Notwithstanding his wonderful austerities, Adamnan assures us he was beloved by all, “for a holy joyousness that ever beamed from his countenance revealed the gladness with which the Holy Spirit filled his soul”. (Praef., II.)”

Columba (521-597) was abbot of Iona. This account is informed by the writings of Adamnan (624-704) who was abbot of Iona shortly after him. This post is for my mother. My ancestry traces to Iona through her. She was curious to see if I could locate the Lenten disciplines there, and I did (source: New Advent). Thanks for the suggestion, Mom!

While this is not a traditional meditation, I like to make posts like this occasionally to inspire us to think how we want to be remembered: for grace and generosity, for standing up for victims of injustice, and for fasting and vigils (late night or early morning prayers) that released the power of the Holy Spirit in and through our lives.

Columba’s legacy reminded me of Anna in today’s Scripture who was also known for her fasting and praying. No wonder she had such a long and fruitful prophetic ministry. Her worship or service night and day was fasting and praying. Through those disciplines she tapped in to all that is good and blessed others daily in the Temple.

This excerpt about Columba touched me most deeply: “He was generous and warm-hearted, tender and kind even to dumb creatures. He was ever ready to sympathize with the joys and sorrows of others. His fasts and vigils were carried to a great extent.” What a legacy!

Father, make it so for my life and for each one reading this. Thank you for my ancestors and their deep faith. Following in their footsteps, cause our fasting and vigils to shape us into people known for humility, charity, generosity, and kindness by the power the Holy Spirit at work in us. Do this, I ask in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Pray for me as I fly to Houston, Texas, and then to Lexington, Kentucky, today to facilitate meetings of presidents and senior administrators of 13 leading seminaries on Tuesday and Wednesday at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. Pray for wisdom and discernment from the Holy Spirit to serve them well. Thank you.

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Jean-Pierre de Caussade: Holy Joy

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

“You cannot imagine anything more wonderful than their union, candour, and simplicity. Impressed by their great austerities I asked them one day if such a hard life did not affect their health and shorten their lives. They replied that there were hardly ever any invalids amongst them, and that very few died young, most of them living to be over eighty. They added that fasting and mortification contributed to improve their health and to prolong life, which good cheer usually tended to shorten. I have never beheld such gaiety and holy joy anywhere else…”

Jean-Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751) in “Letters on the Practice of Abandonment to Divine Providence” excerpt from Letter VII “To a Holy Community” in Abandonment to Divine Providence (Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library) 133.

This post represents a priceless glimpse into the correspondence of deeply committed followers of Christ who are abandoned to divine providence.

In this letter, Jean-Pierre is writing about his experience with the Community of Poor Clares. As you may recall, Clare of Assisi was a close companion of Francis who urged women to follow the rule of Francis which is summed up in three texts from the Gospels: Matthew 19:21Luke 9:3, and Matthew 16:24.

To this day, the Community of Poor Clares are known for living lives of prayer in community with joy. People may think that austere fasting and mortification leave a person empty, but notice that Jean-Pierre finds them healthy and joyful. They experience holy joy.

I pray that is your experience of fasting and mortification too. We deny ourselves daily during Lent not to in any way bring harm to the body and spirit, but rather to help us. The benefits are both spiritual and physical. No wonder Jesus said that anyone who wants to be a disciple must deny themselves daily and follow Him.

What at first glance seems like a hard life actually contributes to a healthy life. It appears that we are giving up things, when in reality we are getting better things. It’s a paradox of the generosity journey. You don’t figure out until you live it out.

The best part about the feast days of Lent (the seven Sundays), is that you learn to appreciate that which you have fasted from, but now your find yourself no longer under the control of such things. You realize, you don’t really need them after all, though maybe you thought you did. You find yourself free and bountifully cared for by divine providence. This is where the joy comes into view.

I pray that in Christ your joy is full and holy!

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John Climacus: Innocence, Fasting, and Temperance

My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore. Psalm 131

“Those who enter this contest must renounce all things, despise all things, deride all things, and shake off all things, that they may lay a firm foundation. A good foundation of three layers and three pillars is innocence, fasting, and temperance. Let all babes in Christ begin with these virtues, taking as their model the natural babes. For you never find in them anything sly or deceitful. They have no insatiate appetite, no insatiable stomach, no body on fire; but perhaps as they grow, in proportion as they take more food, their natural passions also increase.”

John Climacus (579-649) in The Ladder of Divine Ascent 1.10, translated by Archimandrite Lazarus Moore (Harper & Brothers, 1959) 3.

I’ve been praying the Psalms at the divine hours this Lent and Psalm 131 has touched me deeply. Then just yesterday I found a beautiful connection between this Psalm and the words of John Climacus in his classic work, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, which is basically an ancient book on Christian spiritual formation.

We must enter and run the race of the Christian faith with innocence, fasting, and temperance like a contented child. Think about it. A baby does not fret about things that only the mother can supply. Likewise we must not worry ourselves with things that only our Heavenly Father can sort for us.

Let us be contented people, who trust in the Lord and not in ourselves. Without such contented innocence, disciplined fasting, and holy temperance, we will certainly not exhibit Christian generosity. This Lent and beyond let us abandon pride and find hope that frees us to become content conduits of divine blessing.

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Matthew the Poor: Fasting with Prayer

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval. John 6:27

“Fasting by itself is not a virtue. It is nothing at all. Without prayer, it becomes bodily punishment that induces spiritual aridity and bad temper. The same is true of prayer; without fasting, it loses its power along with its fruits.

We may liken fasting to a burning coal and prayer to frankincense. Neither has value without the other, but together, the sweet savor of their incense fills the air.

Fasting calms the impulses of the flesh and quenches the fire of passion; it curbs the prattling of the tongue. Thus, it substantially prepares us for the work of prayer and the release of the spirit from slavery to the flesh. In this way, fasting allows the spirit to contemplate the truths of eternity and the age to come.

The following constitute spiritual meanings for fasting: Fasting is not a deprivation from certain kinds of food but a voluntary abstinence from them. It does not humiliate the flesh, but refreshes the spirit. Nor does it fetter or imprison the senses; it releases them from all that hinders contemplation of God. Fasting does not seek to repress the appetite for food. It renounces this appetite and, in renunciation, elevates it to relish the love of God. Fasting does not imply confinement or restriction, but aims at joy and magnanimity of heart.”

Matthew the Poor (1919-2006), a Coptic Orthodox Monk in Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way by Father Matta El-Meskeen (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press) 229-230.

As I explore fasting through church history, I find rich expressions of it in the early church, but it has been much harder to locate thoughtful content closer to modern times. That is, until I read Matthew the Poor. This monk understood fasting and, more specifically, it’s connection to prayer!

Think of it this way. Prayer without fasting becomes, “God, give me what I want.” And we tend to want it all and want it now. Prayer with fasting surrenders our desires and says “God give me what you desire.” Notice the major difference? This may be a leading contributor to the loss of power in prayer today.

This Lent (and beyond) let’s surrender our desires to enliven the spiritual part of us (fasting) and ask God to make His will be done (prayer) so we become conduits of blessing to those He cares about (almsigiving). As a result, the fruit of the Spirit of generosity will be vibrant in and through us.

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Isaac the Syrian: Fasting is a weapon forged by God

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. Luke 4:1-2

“Fasting was the commandment that was given to our nature in the beginning to protect it with respect to the tasting of food, and in this point the progenitor of our substance fell…And the Savior also, when He manifested Himself to the world, in the Jordan, began at this point. For after His baptism the Spirit led Him into the wilderness and He fasted for forty days and forty nights. Likewise all who set to follow His footsteps make the beginning of their struggle upon this foundation. For this is a weapon forged by God, and who shall escape blame if he neglects it? And if the Lawgiver Himself fasts, who among those who keep the law has no need of fasting?”

Isaac the Syrian (c.613-c.700) in Homilies 37, in Ascetical Homilies, 172, as recounted in Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way by Father Matta El-Meskeen (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press) 231.

Isaac reminds us that humankind, in the beginning, fell with regard to the tasting of food, and that our Savior, after He was baptized, fasted forty days and nights before His ministry began. Think about it. Where the first Adam fell the second Adam picked things up.

Jesus testified that we don’t live on food alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. We are not sustained by physical things but by spiritual truths. We learn this when we take the journey of fasting. We learn that we don’t need this or that after all.

Fasting forty days and nights in Lent (not counting the seven Sundays which are feast days) is not a modern fad but an ancient practice that goes back to the early church for a reason. It’s a weapon forged by God to save us from ourselves and our own appetites.

What does this have to do with generosity?

Saying “No” to some things does create margin in our lives for generosity, but that’s only part of it. The other part is learning to say “Yes” to the things of God so that our living, giving, serving, and loving reflects distinctly “Christian” generosity. We look like Christ in the world.

May our fasting this Lent help us our curb our fleshly appetites so that the Spirit produces the fruit of generosity in our lives for God’s glory. Amen!

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Alphonsus Ligouri: Temperance

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness. 2 Peter 1:5-6

“He that gratifies the taste will readily indulge the other senses; for, having lost the spirit of recollection, he will easily commit faults, by indecent words and by unbecoming gestures. But the greatest evil of intemperance, is that it exposes chastity to great danger… The intemperate cannot expect to be free from temptations against purity. To preserve chastity, the saints practiced the most rigorous mortifications of appetite.”

Alphonsus Ligouri (1696-1787) in The True Spouse of Jesus Christ (Dublin: John Coyne, 1835) 272.

Ligouri helps us see how fasting protects us. In plain terms, it teaches us to say “No!” to ungodliness and worldly passions (Titus 2:11-13). Think of the temptation of Eve in the garden to taste the fruit of the tree that was forbidden: it was good for food and pleasing to the eye” (Genesis 3:6).

Part of the reason that almsgiving and prayer are combined with fasting throughout church history, is that we learn to say “No!” to taste and intemperance so we can say “Yes!” to the things of God. It’s also part of the reason Jesus wants us to store up treasures in heaven rather than on earth.

When we focus on preserving comfort rather than following Christ, we can’t help but use God’s money to serve the flesh and we become a slave to our own appetites. Don’t let it happen to you. Fast in order to teach yourself to say “No!” so that you can say “Yes!” the the things of God.

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Francis de Sales: Control Greediness

For if you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live. Romans 8:13

“Besides the ordinary effect of fasting in raising the mind, subduing the flesh, confirming goodness, and obtaining a heavenly reward, it is also a great matter to be able to control greediness, and to keep the sensual appetites and the whole body subject to the law of the Spirit; and although we may be able to do but little, the enemy nevertheless stands more in awe of those whom he knows can fast.”

Francis de Sales (1567-1622) in Introduction to the Devout Life (CSD) 86.

One of the benefits of fasting is that it teaches us to curb our wants. Related to money, it helps us control greediness. I hope your fasting this Lent is having this effect.

The Apostle Paul charged the Romans (and us) to mortify or put to death the deeds of the flesh. Francis calls it “subduing the flesh.” We do this because it’s the path to life.

This is one of the many counterintuitive realities of the Christian faith. Only when we subdue the flesh do we position the Spirit to guide and control us. Happy fasting!

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John Cassian: Aids to perfection

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. Colossians 3:2

“Fastings, vigils, meditation on the Scriptures, self-denial, and the abnegation of all possessions are not perfection, but aids to perfection: because the end of that science does not lie in these, but by means of these we arrive at the end. He then will practise these exercises to no purpose, who is contented with these as if they were the highest good, and has fixed the purpose of his heart simply on them, and does not extend his efforts towards reaching the end, on account of which these should be sought: for he possesses indeed the implements of his art, but is ignorant of the end, in which all that is valuable resides. Whatever then can disturb that purity and peace of mind — even though it may seem useful and valuable — should be shunned as really hurtful, for by this rule we shall succeed in escaping harm from mistakes and vagaries, and make straight for the desired end and reach it. This then should be our main effort: and this steadfast purpose of heart we should constantly aspire after; that the soul may ever cleave to God and to heavenly things.”

John Cassian (360-435) in The Conferences of John Cassian (Grand Rapids: CCEL) 8.

It’s important to note that fasting, almsgiving, and prayer are not “ends” but rather “aids to perfection” and if that word “perfection” throws you off, think, spiritual maturity. They position us to live a life of Christian generosity.

Letting go of that which is good to take hold of something better is what Lent teaches us. The key in the second half of Lent is learning to grasp that which is heavenly. Or in plain terms, the key to fasting is learning to feast on Jesus.

Mary figured this out faster than Martha in this classic text, Luke 10:38-42.

As Jesus and His disciples were on their way, He came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to Him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what He said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to Him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Lent is learning not to be distracted so that we latch on to the one thing that is better, the one thing that is needed. Only when we do that we are positioned to serve as conduits of blessing.

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