Do you remember your childhood days when your mom would guide you in moderating your helpings for a meal or dessert? “Only two pieces of candy.” “Only one helping of spaghetti.” “Only two helpings of ice cream.” (How good that two helpings of ice cream were allowed!)
She basically was saying, “The body matters!” In other words, having a human nature means bodily actions have certain consequences. Your tongue may like five Hershey’s bars, but you will regret it later (i.e. stomachache) since the body is not designed to process that much sugar!
Nick’s Night at the Zoo, a TOBET storybook meant for 1st graders, underlines this idea of the body being like a teacher. In his dream, Nick gets stuck at the zoo. He enjoys the zoo so much, including eating tons and tons of delicious yogurt, until he gets a stomachache.
Your mom’s guidance in your childhood went beyond teaching the virtue of temperance. She knew that fasting can be sacrificial, adding to the experience of one’s self as a person who is made to be free, and free so as to love. This freedom starts with the body.
Maybe your mom wouldn’t express it this way, but Saint John Paul affirms her guidance. He addresses those who, like Nick, are used to being immoderate, but finally choose virtue:
“Yet, already the first time, and all the more later, when he has gained the ability, man gradually experiences his own dignity and through temperance attests to his own self-dominion, and demonstrates that he fulfills what is essentially personal in him. In addition, he gradually experiences the freedom of the gift…. Thus, the ethos of the redemption of the body is realized through self-dominion…” (TOB 49:6).
In other words, virtue leads to the freedom to be able to love (“freedom of the gift”). Which brings me to another mama who knows best: Mother Church.
Depriving the body and focusing on the corporal (“bodily”) works of mercy are all over the prayers (Collect and Propers) said by the priest at Mass. Mother Church guides us to engage in this asceticism and corporeal acts of mercy, not to communicate that the body is evil or that it should be rejected, but rather, because we ARE our bodies. We are “em-bodied” spirits; our human nature is a composite of the spiritual and bodily dimensions of our nature which affect us deeply.
So, let’s listen to Mama Church and enter into fasting. Not as a mere discipline or external rule forced on you by your mother and which as a child you don’t understand. Rather, allow the sacrifice experienced through your body speak to ALL of you, a “body-person” who is made for love.
Monica Ashour, MTS; MHum is President, Author, International Speaker, and Content Creation Director at Theology of the Body Evangelization Team, Inc. (TOBET)