“The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” – author unknown . . . but probably an Italian grandmother
As someone with an Italian mother who I still think is the best Italian cook in the world, I have some experience with this saying 🙂 But although we think of it in the world of romance, it is quite helpful in the world of spirituality. How we approach food in our lives can give us great insight into the state of our hearts. Consequently food, both its quantity (fasting) and taste are parts of the Flame of Love devotion.
We must be careful to be neither lax nor obsessed about this topic. Here is the key: make your food about loving others. How do we normally decide what to eat or not eat? We eat what we want for ourselves – for our pleasure and our health. Like most things, our decision revolves around ourselves – just like choosing what we wear, how we spend our money, and how we spend our time. The effect of grace of our Blessed Mother’s Flame of Love turns this upside down. In complete union with Jesus by the power of grace, our lives are now completely poured out for others including what we choose to eat or not eat, what to wear, how we spend our money, and how we spend our time.
In the Diary, we are encouraged to fast and we are encouraged to make our meals tasteless:
Jesus: “I want you to increase your fasts if you accept. Do not give yourself to any pleasure. Let your breakfast and your afternoon meal be bread and water. You can have other foods only at your principal meal, but make them tasteless. Do not eat to please your taste but only to nourish your body.”Spiritual Diary p.41
But why? If we fast and bland our meals only as a matter of discipline, it may give us mastery of our senses and build a sense of personal detachment but it is largely devoid of spiritual power. How subtly we can fall into spiritual selfishness, doing things for our own salvation or even spiritual pride. Rather, let us do these out of love. It is love for our Lord as we allow Him to continue His life of redemptive sacrifice in us – choosing union with Him over our own pleasure. It is love for our brothers and sisters because we may offer these voluntary sacrifices for their salvation as Jesus offered His voluntary sacrifices for their salvation. Love drives our fasting and our blanding of meals – not discipline, not guilt, not obligation. Make your food about loving others.
At the risk of being lengthy for a reflection, let’s explore this as it is essential to our spiritual health. We often receive questions about what fasting do we have to do as part of the devotion. The Diary mentions fasting on bread and water on Monday, Thursday, and Friday as well as blanding all meals. Asking what we have to do may quickly set us on the wrong path. Christians should not generally be asking what must I do but rather, what can I do. This takes us from the realm of obligation to the realm of love.
It could be you should not fast at all. Maybe you are diabetic. Maybe you have an incredibly physically demanding job where you will put people at risk if you are faint from hunger. Maybe you have a constitution and life that allow you to fast almost every day as an offering for others. This approach of what can I do in love rather than what am I obligated to do does two important things:
- It banishes guilt. If you sincerely are offering your life for others and cannot fast, do not feel guilty. Just make your food about loving others.
- It makes the sky the limit for what you can do if you are able. You are not limited by fixed amount of fasting (though you should be limited by wisdom). Just make your food about loving others.
Some have asked if the Thursday and Friday fasts were for Elizabeth or for everyone. Not wanting to assume I could definitively understand the Diary without the oral tradition, I asked Győző Kindelmann, our International Director and Elizabeth’s grandson. He replied:
Jesus gave Elizabeth a task of atonement and prayer every day of the week, which includes lot of fasting (April 10, 1962). However, this strict daily agenda was not obligatory for her either! The Lord said about this: “Come, if you have time. If this is too much, just let me know, please. The will is yours, I have great respect for that. ” Therefore, we should also, only undertake as much as we can, not to have a detrimental effect on our work or harm our health. In any event, members of the Flame of Love Movement are recommended to take on some form of fasting or self-restraint (self denial) at least 1 day a week. According to the tradition of the Church, Friday is the most common day of fasting.
So we come back to where we began. We do not fast for obligation. We do not fast to some minimum requirement. We fast as we can, guided by wisdom, not asking how much do I have to fast but rather how much can I fast. It’s simple. Stop eating or not eating according to what you want. Make your food about loving others. Indeed, our stomachs can tell us much about our hearts!
p56: Jesus: “My little one, get rid of anything that gives taste to your meals. Only in this way, will I be your guest. What is tasty for you is tasteless for Me. I ask you, therefore, that if you invite Me, seek what pleases Me.”
p163: During lunch, it was very difficult to make my meal tasteless. So, I decided to eat one half and to make tasteless the other half. Our Lord sadly observed.
Jesus: “I accepted sufferings without a thought and I saved you from all your sins, not just from some. Do not be stingy. May our hands gather in unity.”
p166: Today is my fast day for the priestly souls. The Savior has asked me to fast each Monday on bread and water to free a priest soul from purgatory. Although the fast weakens me, I can do my housework and help with the children.
p84: The Lord Jesus asked me to write especially about how we can help souls.
Jesus: “By observing the fast I ask for, priests will be freed from purgatory on the eighth day after their death.”
p98: While He was speaking to me, I got out my little lunch. On Thursday and Friday, at the Lord’s request, I eat only bread and water, and I offer it for the twelve priests and to make reparation to the Lord. Meanwhile, the Lord sat – in a spiritual way – next to me and said:
Jesus: “Oh, how this pleases Me. So few times have I enjoyed participating in such an intimate banquet. The souls that make reparation and faithfully follow My desires are so few.”
Jesus: “May our souls be in harmony. In this way, our hands will gather in unity.”