THURSDAY AFTER ASH-WEDNESDAY
Consider first, how much fasting is recommended to us in the word of God by the great example of Christ and of his Saints, as well of the Old as of the New Testament; how we are there called upon to turn to God with fasting, Joel ii.; how the greatest sinners have there found mercy by fasting, Jonas iii.; how we are there taught that all Christ’s children are to fast during his absence from us, St. Matt. ix. 15; and that the devil is not to be cast out but by prayer and fasting, St. Mark ix. 28. Man fell from God originally by intemperance; he returns to him by fasting. The gratifying of our sensual appetite betrays us both to the flesh and to the devil; we overcome them both by fasting; by which (as the Church daily inculcates in the preface for Lent) God restrains our vices and passions, elevates our souls to himself and bestows upon us his heavenly gifts and graces. O happy fasting which drivest away all our evils, healest both soul and body, and bringest us to our Sovereign God!
Consider 2ndly, that there are three great advantages found in fasting. First, it appeases the wrath of God provoked by our sins; inasmuch as by fasting for them we acknowledge our guilt, and take part with his justice, in condemning and punishing ourselves. For there is nothing sooner moves God to show us mercy than the homage we pay to his justice, by exercising a wholesome severity against the wretch that has dared to offend God. O let us conceive a just indignation against this sinful flesh! Let us not spare the traitor that has so often betrayed us into sin! Let a penitential fast be our regular exercise.
Consider 3rdly, that another great advantage of fasting is that we are enabled by it to overcome our passions and concupiscences. Fasting, when performed with a due spirit, humbles the soul exceedingly, and consequently restrains the irregular motions of all the passions that are the daughters of pride. It keeps the flesh in subjection, by depriving it of the principal nourishment of its rebellions and disorders, and obliges it to submit to the spirit. And, which is a third advantage, in proportion to its weakening the passions of the flesh, it gives strength and vigour to the soul; sets it at liberty from the clogs that hinder its free application to heavenly truths; and enables it to fly upwards towards God, by purer prayer and contemplation.
Conclude to set a due value on this wholesome exercise, which has been the favourite of all the Saints, and has greatly contributed to make them the favourites of heaven. But take care that your fasting be accompanied with its proper attendants, that it may be such a fast as God hath chosen.