Such exercises as fasting cannot have their proper effect unless our motives for practicing them spring from personal meditation. We have to think of what we are doing, and the reasons for our actions must spring from the depths of our freedom and be enlivened by the transforming power of Christian love. Otherwise, our self-imposed sacrifices are likely to be pretenses, symbolic gestures without real interior meaning. Sacrifices made in this formalistic spirit tend to be mere acts of external routine performed in order to exorcise interior anxiety and not for the sake of love. In that case, however, our attention will tend to fix itself upon the insignificant suffering which we have piously elected to undergo, and to exaggerate it in one way or another, either to make it seem unbearable or else to make it seem more heroic than it actually is. Sacrifices made in this fashion would be better left unmade. It would be more sincere as well as more religious to eat a full dinner in a spirit of gratitude than to make some minor sacrifice a part of it, with the feeling that one is suffering martyrdom.
-Thomas Merton in The Climate of Monastic Prayer
(For more on fasting, see this earlier post.)
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