>From "The Sermons of St. Francis de Sales for Lent"
Chapter 1- Fasting, abridged.
To treat of fasting and of what is required to fast well, we must, at the
start, understand that of itself fasting is not a virtue. The good and the
bad, as well as Christians and pagans, observe it. The ancient philosophers
observed it and recommended it. They were not virtuous for that reason, nor
did they practice virtue in fasting. Oh, no, fasting is a virtue only when
it is accompanied by conditions which render it pleasing to God. Thus it
happens that it profits some and not others, because it is not undertaken by
all in the same manner.
We find some people who think that to fast well during the holy season of
Lent it is enough to abstain from eating some prohibited food. But this
thought is too gross to enter into the hearts of religious, for it is to you
I speak, as well as persons dedicated to Our Lord. We know very well that it
is not enough to fast exteriorly if we do not also fast interiorly and if we
do not accompany the fast of the body with that of the spirit.
It will be very helpful to state clearly what must be done to fast well
these forty days. For although everyone is bound to know it and to practice
it, religious and persons dedicated to Our Lord are more particularly
obliged to it. Now, among all the conditions required for fasting well, I
will select three principal ones and speak familiarly about them.
The FIRST condition is that we must fast with our whole heart, that is to
say, willingly, whole-heartedly, universally and entirely. If I recount to
you St. Bernard's words regarding fasting, you will know not only why it is
instituted but also how it ought to be kept.
He says that fasting was instituted by Our Lord as a remedy for our
mouth, for our gourmandizing and for our gluttony. Since sin entered the
world through the mouth, the mouth must do penance by being deprived of
foods prohibited and forbidden by the Church, abstaining from them for the
space of forty days. But this glorious saint adds that, as it is not our
mouth alone which has sinned, but also all our other senses, our fast must
be general and entire, that is, all the members of our body must fast.
The SECOND condition is never to fast through vanity but always through
humility. If our fast is not performed with humility, it will not be
pleasing to God. Prepare yourselves to fast with charity, for if your fast
is performed without it, it will be vain and useless, since fasting, like
all other good works, is not pleasing to God unless it is done in charity
and through charity. When you discipline yourself, when you say long
prayers, if you have not charity, all that is nothing.
The THIRD condition necessary for fasting well is to look to God and to
do everything to please Him, withdrawing within ourselves in imitation of a
great saint, St. Gregory the Great, who withdrew into a secret and
out-of-the-way place where he remained for some time without anyone knowing
where he was, being content that the Lord and His angels knew it.