We recently had the opportunity to interview Msgr. Charles Murphy of the Diocese of Portland in Maine about his new book The Spirituality of Fasting.
The subject of fasting is not only timely as we approach the season of Lent, it is also an important and ancient Christian spiritual discipline which has application throughout the year.
We hope you enjoy the interview and consider rediscovering this practice in your own spiritual life.
Can you give our readers/customers some information about your background?
I am the director of the Diaconate program for the Diocese of Portland, Maine. Previously I was the rector of the North American College in Rome and I hold a doctorate from the Gregorian University.
Our readers/customers are always interested in the process of writing a book. Can you tell us both about the process you went through to write “The Spirituality of Fasting” and your motivation to write the book.
Pope John Paul II, during a visit to the North American College after his first pilgrimage to the United States, commented to me that the practice of fasting seemed to have collapsed among American Catholics. He asked me why this was so. My book addresses this issue.
From a pastoral point of view, can you speak to the importance of spiritual disciplines in the practice of our faith? How do you see spiritual disciplines relating to, or being different from, penitential practices?
Fasting is one of the three great pillars of piety of both Judaism and Christianity. There is no substitute for fasting. Unfortunately fasting has been, at times, portrayed as something negative.
According to St. Augustine, prayer and fasting are the two wings of charity.
Can you give us a brief history, or overview, of the practice of fasting in the Church?
The early Church fathers after the age of persecution wished to lift up the level of Christian practice by the discipline of fasting. From their example the discipline of Lent emerged as a preparation for Easter.
Fasting was a common practice in the early Church, and is still common in the Eastern churches, how can Roman Catholics benefit from this spiritual discipline today?
Catholics today should embrace fasting as a communal exercise in our homes and parishes throughout the season of Lent and on all the Wednesdays and Fridays of the year.
Do you have some suggestions for very busy Catholics on how they can incorporate this practice into their hectic lives?
I recommend the “skip a meal” program. Pick a day of the week—say, a Friday—when you skip a meal and spend the time in prayer. Donate the savings to a charity of your choice.
When Roman Catholics today think of fasting, they tend to think of Lent. What suggestions do you have for adapting this spiritual discipline to other times of the year or even as a regular practice?
All the Fridays of the year should be meatless days. (This was the Discipline in the Roman Rite until recent times)
The subtitle of your book is “Rediscovering a Christian Practice.” The idea of rediscovering Church traditions and practices is taking on new life in the Church today. How do you see your book as playing a part in this?
My hope is that this book will reintroduce a new generation of Catholics to the essential nature of fasting as a religious wisdom about our eating habits in this age of preoccupation with food.
Many of my answers to your questions have been concise, as I go into these subjects in much greater detail in my book of course.
We'd like to thank Msgr. Murphy for his time and for sharing his wisdom on this subject with us.
Please consider reading The Spirituality of Fasting, not just as a Lenten exercise but as a way to grow in spiritual discipline and closeness to Our Lord.
He lives with his lovely wife and eleven kids in northern Colorado.