My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!
In today’s Gospel we hear of our Lord casting out the demon from the young man who had been brought unto Him by that boy’s father. Many people will find this particular exorcism memorable because our Lord famously told His disciples concerning it that “this kind,” that is, that particular kind of demonic possession, “is not cast out but by prayer and fasting.”
And, of course, it is precisely this point that the Church wishes us to think on and take to heart today: Prayer and fasting. And we are to note that prayer and fasting are tools, they are means by which we, as believers, are delivered from evil, they are tools by which we are freed.
Fasting and prayer. Both the one who is suffering from evil and the one who would be a healer of those who are suffering ought to fast. It behooves us all not only to fast, but also to pray, for true prayer is practiced when it has fasting joined with it.
Experience teaches us that the believer who fasts properly is not burdened or weakened. Genuine fasting gives the soul a lightness, allowing the heart and the mind more easily to be lifted up towards heaven.
And prayer! Prayer is strengthened and given even more power by fasting. When the body is in ordered subjection and the mind cooperates calmly and tranquilly, then prayer ascends, truly more powerful and more purifying than fire. That is why these two good works – prayer and fasting – should always be joined together.
For one who is a slave to his belly and thoughtlessly caters to its every appetite will easily – and one might even say invariably – fall under other disordered passionate attachments. Always catering to the whims of the body will cause the body to become more demanding, and will cause the will – bit by bit and step by step – to be inclined habitually to give in to every demand of the bodily appetites, be they legitimate or illegitimate, salutary or harmful.
On the contrary, when the belly is restrained, the will becomes vigorous, and the heart is humbled. For good health and strength accompany abstinence, and bring energy, and brightness, and life.
One who prays and who fasts finds that he or she is quite satisfied and quite content with those things which are truly necessary. One who prays and who fasts does not require much. And one who does not require much will not be a lover of possessions. One who is not a lover of possessions is made all the more ready to give alms; and almsgiving, mingled with prayer, delivers a man from death.
So now that we have arrived at this fourth Sunday of Lent, let us all the more resolve to hurry forward, that through our ascetic labour we may walk the path of our salvation with our Lord.
It is a great task, this ascetic labor. And any time a person undertakes a great project or a task, at first they will often experience hardship and discomfort. But when the work is completed, then they have joy, and gladness, and genuine satisfaction at a task well done.
A farmer – he sows the seed with great toil, and manages the crop with struggle, but he reaps with gladness. The soldier – he goes into battle with fear and apprehension, but he returns in jubilation after winning a victory and being delivered from battle. The merchant puts all his assets into the business which he is conducting, often even borrowing money; he goes off to far-away places, leaving behind his home and all that he has; he deals with misfortune, difficulties, and troubles; but when he takes his time, and does good business and returns with his profits, he forgets about his former sufferings; he rejoices and celebrates as he relaxes with all his loved ones; he feasts and feels care-free, and he gives thanks to God.
In the same way, if we look toward the proper end of our abstinence, we, too, shall no longer be mindful of our earlier struggles. But rather we shall rejoice and be glad over the things of the present, and glorify and exalt our merciful Lord, the Lover of mankind.
So let us labour, then, in fasting and prayer, as the Lord commands, that we may drive far from ourselves the passions which trouble us. For the soul of the one who fasts is light and soars aloft; it has the two wings, as it were, of prayer and fasting. With these two wings we may pray with sobriety and with sincerity. For these are the wings which the Psalmist prays to be given when he says, “Who will give me wings like a dove? And I will fly, and be at rest.” If we do not have these wings, these twin virtues of prayer and fasting, we will certainly not be able to ascend above the things of this earth and our own appetites. If we do not have these wings, these twin virtues of prayer and fasting, we can never attain the peace of passionlessness.
By God’s grace and love toward man, may we may make progress with good deeds and labours and accomplishments, and may we be granted to see the radiant day of the holy Resurrection of Christ, rejoicing in spirit and giving thanks to Him.
At the teaching and the insistence and the example of our Lord, the Apostles themselves were enjoined to fast and to pray. So likewise today, we who are the beneficiaries and the inheritors of the great treasure of the faith which was given to the Apostles, we ought also to acquire a true love for fasting and prayer.
When things are going pleasantly and favourably, let us not grow proud or careless. In our daily trials, let us not be discouraged. In our greater afflictions, some of which we are all facing now, let us not fall away, but rather kindle hope for the good things yet to come.
It is in this way that we might have the firm foundation of grace, which allows us and empowers us to be chaste, prudent, meek and humble. With grace alone can we be enlivened and strengthened that we may be able to practice every virtue, and that we may obtain the good things which are to come, in Christ Jesus our Lord.