VERBUM DOMINI

Falling and fasting

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Eve wasn’t hungry. Her stomach wasn’t growling. She wasn’t tired, low-energy, or diabetic. She didn’t reach for the apple to boost her sugar. Until that day, she probably hadn’t given much thought to the tree. After all, it was forbidden and there was plenty of food in the garden. But then the serpent seasoned it with lies: “your eyes will be opened and you will become like gods.” Flavored with falsehood, the tree looked different: “pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.” Approaching, without a prayer of thanksgiving, “she took some of its fruit and ate” (Gen 3:5-6). It all went wrong with a snack.

Apparently the way to the soul is through the stomach. Jesus tangles with the devil after a forty-day fast. Food is again the tempter’s first trick: “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” This should sound familiar (he’s always using the same material). Satan tempted Eve to take food and become like God. Now he tempts Jesus to make food and affirm he is God. Jesus, of course, escapes the snare: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:3-4). But we learn something here. Food is the devil’s initial line of attack.

Gluttony is the first vice. Though the least serious, we might think of it as the gateway vice. It leads to the others. This was the opinion of the Fathers of the Church. They saw in gluttony a seedbed for spiritual illnesses. Gluttony has the sensual excess of lust and the avid appetite of avarice. The glutton is irritated by poor meals and angered by missed ones. The overeater is weighed down by delicacies; it is a strain to lift the spirit in prayer. A spiritual boredom overcomes him and the gourmand settles into sloth. The Church Fathers saw gluttony as the first sickness, the first needing a cure.

We always begin Lent with a fast. Many resolve to surrender some specific food (candy, chocolate, grande-whole-milk-extra-whip mochas). This aids a break with gluttonous tendencies. The Lenten fast strikes at the root of original sin and helps turn over the other vices as well. For today, always having what we want (when we want, the way we want) creates the illusion that we have “become like gods.” Every vice, starting with gluttony, engenders a rebellious spirit, the spirit of pride; we are in charge of ourselves, we decide what is good and evil. A fast is the quickest way to shatter these delusions. It reminds us that we are creatures. It reminds us to depend upon and praise the Provider.