Since we arrived back from our Florida trip on Ash Wednesday and I had several days of catch up, I didn't read his Ash Wednesday sermon until this morning at adoration which is on fasting and how to do it properly and well. He firsts wants the reader to recognize how beneficial fasting is, so he describes four fruits of fasting well:
- fasting fortifies the spirit, mortifying the flesh and its sensuality
- it raises the spirit to God
- it fights cocupiscence and gives power to conquer and deaden its passions
- it disposes the heart to seek to please only God with great purity of heart
However, these fruits are not automatic. Even the pagans, he points out, fast. So he also gives three conditions for fasting in a way that makes it "complete and meritorious":
- it should be universal, that is to say, practiced in both body and spirit
- it must never be done through vanity but always through humility; to fast through vanity means to fast through self-will, to fast as one wishes and not as others wish; i.e., in a manner which pleases us
- one must look to God and to do everything to please Him, withdrawing within ourselves -- to please God alone...without delighting...or caring whether you are seen by others or not, but only for the honor and glory of God.
St. Francis is one of my favorite teachers. Three reasons stand out. He was a contemporary of Shakespeare although I haven't seen any evidence that he was familiar with the plays. On the other hand, he must have been familiar with the situation in England with so many men coming to Douai in northern France to attend the seminary. I think he would have been a fan of Shakespeare secret Catholic messages in the plays. Secondly, he has a close connection to the Shroud of Turin, the burial cloth of Christ. His mother, experiencing a difficult pregnancy, "consecrated her unborn child to Our Lord in the presence of the Holy Shroud." St. Francis venerated the relic throughout his life. The third reason is because St. Francis so often uses bees as a metaphor for the spiritual life and always in a laudatory context. In his Ash Wednesday sermon he describes the bees' humility as they produce their honey hidden in the hive and in the little cells within.
As I read this morning, I felt totally confident that this is the book for me this Lent. St. Francis is considered the saint of courtesy and and good manners and I can always use more of that in my life. So part of my fasting is to try to banish uncharitable thoughts about others from my mind and uncharitable words from my lips. St. Francis de Sales, pray for me and intercede that I might have your gift of courtesy and the "gentle touch."