Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

Fasting for Lent: Reduce Your Lustful “Seminal Matter”

sexy cow.jpgI greatly respect the spiritual goals of Lent, but I was curious about the origins of the tradition of avoiding beef.
Now, I usually am one who prefers the time-tested wisdom of the ancients to flash-in-the-pan modern experts. But I’m not sure Saint Thomas Aquinas’ explanation of this fasting tradition is the best example of that sagacity. He explains that beefy animals are more like humans, which makes them more, well — cough, cough — arousing.
In Summa Theologica, the great Aquinas writes:


“Fasting was instituted by the Church in order to bridle the concupiscences of the flesh, which regard pleasures of touch in connection with food and sex. Wherefore the Church forbade those who fast to partake of those foods which both afford most pleasure to the palate, and besides are a very great incentive to lust. Such are the flesh of animals that take their rest on the earth, and of those that breathe the air and their products, such as milk from those that walk on the earth, and eggs from birds.
For, since such like animals are more like man in body, they afford greater pleasure as food, and greater nourishment to the human body, so that from their consumption there results a greater surplus available for seminal matter, which when abundant becomes a great incentive to lust. Hence the Church has bidden those who fast to abstain especially from these foods.”

I’m very glad Aquinas didn’t weigh in on why we give up Chocolate for Lent.

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posted February 27, 2009 at 10:00 am

One of my pastors gave a sermon right after the war in Iraq was waged. He talked about giving up Chocolate for Lent, but we lusted for it and could not wait till we could go back to eating it.
We were not being transformed, we just went back to our old ways after lent. He suggested we should give up something that made us better people – something that mattered.
He then tied it to the Iraq war and the US use of oil, other excesses and we the Americans always think what we did was the “right” thing – attacking another country

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posted February 27, 2009 at 1:49 pm

Number 1: What’s hard to understand about the excerpt? Lent is about abstaining from things we find pleasurable as a way of building up discipline which can later be geared toward our spiritual lives. I thought St. Thomas did a fine job of explaining that in the quote.
Number 2: Not being Catholic, why on earth do you keep concerning yourself with our practices and theology?
Here’s an idea for your next column: spend some time questioning the wacky ideas of some Protestant denominations. Spend some time minding your own spiritual business and leave us Catholics alone.

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Charles Cosimano

posted February 27, 2009 at 4:52 pm

With appologies to Aldous Huxley, feasting really is better than fasting.

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Iris Alantiel

posted February 28, 2009 at 10:35 am

That cow in that picture there . . . *great* shoes.

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posted February 28, 2009 at 11:42 am

Why celebrate lent at all? Why not take part in spiritual disciplines 365 days each year.
God prefers obedience to sacrifice. If you give up somthing “bad” during lent, why not give it up forever?

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Gerard Nadal

posted February 28, 2009 at 11:54 am

Perhaps you would care to discourse on why Hasidic Jews dress as they do? Why the same style wig on the women? Why those fashionable coats and hats on the men? Why the peyos? Why their separation of the sexes in prayer and at weddings? I could go on with a list of looks and practices that seem bizarre to non-Jews. I know the answers, because I have engaged Hasidim in respectful discourse.
But perhaps you can run a series in soft ridicule on the Jews during Yom Kippur and Passover, just as you have mocked Aquinas during Lent.
I agree with Bob’s comments. I thought Aquinas did an excellent job of explaining the Church’s position, but it requires being read with a genuinely open mind and humble heart.
If you want a decent education in Catholicism, go through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program of study in a parish. It is a year-long program for those wishing to convert to the Church. I’m sure you’ll come away ready to blog seriously and respectfully with us. Or at least better informed.
This is a serious time of year for observant Christians. Sort of like 40 days of Yom Kippur. Please respect that.

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posted March 1, 2009 at 3:42 pm

And since it’s a serious time for observant Christians, thank you, Steven, for pointing out the superficiality of some of the ritual. There can be a deeper “fast” than avoiding bovine aphrodisiacs. We need to be reminded of this, apparently.
But I agree, what’s with those Hassidim? Jesus.

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Gerard Nadal

posted March 1, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Pope Benedict XVI:
“From what I have said thus far, it seems abundantly clear that fasting represents an important ascetical practice, a spiritual arm to do battle against every possible disordered attachment to ourselves. Freely chosen detachment from the pleasure of food and other material goods helps the disciple of Christ to control the appetites of nature, weakened by original sin, whose negative effects impact the entire human person. Quite opportunely, an ancient hymn of the Lenten liturgy exhorts: “Utamur ergo parcius, / verbis cibis et potibus, / somno, iocis et arctius / perstemus in custodia – Let us use sparingly words, food and drink, sleep and amusements. May we be more alert in the custody of our senses.”
The whole message here:
Maybe for Passover this year you would post a woman dressed in a sexy pig costume and a quote from a revered Rabbi about why eating pig is a sin.Then you could finish it off with a smarmy line like, “Moses obviously never had the pleasure of a BLT.
Judaic ascetic practices are no more bizarre than ours. That you mock our revered saints and philosophers, our ascetic practices during our time of prayer and penance is repugnant.
I dare say that if L’Ossaervatore Romano dared publish a woman in a sexy pig costume with a quote from a revered Rabbi discoursing on why pigs are forbidden in the Jewish diet we would, RIGHTLY I MIGHT ADD, never hear the end of it.
Don’t confuse our patient endurance of such puerile attempts at journalism as lack of conviction on our part. Gratuitous slaps such as your treatment of Aquinas are corrosive and breed ill will needlessly.
In case you missed this one growing up, mocking the religious practices of others is beyond uncivil. As the Brits simply say, it’s not done. Mockery of articles of faith is intolerable. Mockery of centuries or millennia-old ascetic practices of others, especially during their holy days is boorish.
Roman Catholics such as myself come on these threads and show deep respect to others while disagreeing with them on substantive matters. Is it too much to ask the Editor-in Chief of Beliefnet to lead by example?

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posted March 14, 2009 at 5:41 am

I would have thought that respect for Aquinas (and the Catholic tradition) would ask that you explain what you find problematic in his explanation, rather than simply citing it and seeming to imply that it’s ridiculous.
Whether the precise physical explanation is correct, he’s trying to explain something that is based on human experience, namely that moderate fasting is an aid to purity of thought, whereas gluttony tends to contribute to impurity.

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