By Fr. Dwight Longenecker
I posted a video on my blog the other day from YouTube. It was an interview with a Romanian hermit. This grizzled old warrior was asked the most important element in a successful prayer life. He looked away with watery eyes then looked at the interviewer and replied, "Purity of the body."
He understood that what we do with our bodies affects our souls and minds and what we do with our souls and minds affects our bodies. Every spiritual tradition teaches the same truth: you must have mastery over your body if you wish to have mastery over your soul.
We take it for granted that the hard work of physical self discipline is necessary for many other human endeavors. The dancer, the athlete, the actor, the musician, the politician, the businessman. All agree that for real success they must be in control of their physical appetites.
It's the same with spiritual warfare. We have to control our appetite for food, our appetite for sex, our appetite for money, our appetite for sleep, our appetite for every physical comfort. We don't practice asceticism like members of Eastern religions because we think the physical world is sinful or bad in itself, but we do so as a method of self discipline. We control the body so that the soul may open up in silence. We make ourselves hungry for food so that we might hunger and thirst for righteousness.
The devil understands that what we do with our bodies affects our souls. That is why he tempts us with physical temptations so successfully. He sees very clearly what we tend to forget: that we are not souls encased in bodies like a water in a jug. Our souls and bodies are intermingled at every level, like water in a sponge.
The devil tempts us to physical excess, and if he can get us addicted, he has our souls. The reverse is also true. If we control our physical appetites, we can deprive him of that victory and gain control not only over our bodies and our appetites, but also over him. This is what Jesus meant when he spoke about the demons, “These can only come out by prayer and fasting.”
There’s more to it: not only do we gain control over the devil in our own lives by fasting, but fasting seems to release some sort of spiritual power in the world. Through fasting we become more spiritually alert and aware and God is able to use us more effectively. Fasting makes us a lean, mean fighting machine.
So resolve to fast more. Try giving up a meal once a week to start with. Fast on bread and water if you must eat. Then start to keep Fridays as a fast day. Not just the ‘fish on Friday’ thing, but really fasting for a whole day.
You’ll be amazed how it transforms your life. You’ll be back in control. If you can control your food intake you’ll soon have better control of the other appetites in your life that are running away with your soul.
And when you’ve done that, you're on the way to cooperating with God for the salvation of souls and victory over evil in ways you could never have imagined.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker is the author of Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing. Check out his website: www.dwightlongencker.com to read his archived articles, connect to his blog and listen to his podcast homilies