Spiritual Disciplines are exercises intended to train our spiritual selves, fight temptation, properly live out the 4 desires, and create habits that will break strongholds that the deviations of the 7 sins manifest. Spiritual disciplines produce the seven virtues because they are prepatory in nature and allow us tangible practices that are tied to the source temptation or trigger that draws us, for example, to practice patience over wrath. The disciplines allow us to practice the virtues at times when the option to deviate is not present so that when the choice in the road comes, we have prepared our spirit. This allows us to practice humility when we aren't faced with the temptation of pride. Or perhaps chasitity when we aren't tempted to lust. Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving are these disciplines.
Disciplines and their effects
When we practice the three disciplines, we are targeting three specific areas of our composition to withstand in times of trial.
- Prayer is the discipline of the mind, heart and will.
- Fasting is the discipline of the body.
- Almsgiving is the discipline of the possessions or material world.
From St. Matthew's gospel we find the three disciplines as defined by Jesus saying, When you give, when you pray, when you fast.
Prayer and the mind
Prayer, although perfectly right to be done with others and publicly, is not an outward display; nor is it a performance review with God to earn His response. Prayer is a secret and internal conversation, spirit to Spirit, communing with God, gazing upon His perfection, allowing his gracious gaze back to us to transform us through the gifting of illumination, wisdom, truth, beauty and goodness. Prayer can not generate righteousness. Prayer is a Spirit drawn activity that receives of God. It does not specialize in moving God, but in God moving us to what he has already desired for us.
Because prayer reveals, it often reveals the heart of man to see the deviations of pride, gluttony, lust etc. Prayer also teaches us why we practice chastity, temperance, and patience.
Prayer resets out mind, asking for forgiveness, forgiving others, desiring the will of God as it is in heaven here on earth. A mind desiring the bread from God with more readily be prepared to resist the bread of Gluttony.
Fasting and the body
As with prayer, fasting is not an outward display to man or God. Rather, it is once again, internally focused, desiring to starve the body of its comforts, distractions, avoidances and false satisfactions. More fasting does not receive greater reward from God. He will not grant more grace for those that fast three days than those that fasted one. Fasting is executed in relation to the need of the one fasting and the strength of physical deviation that needs to be starved.
Fasting is a breaker discipline. It cracks open strongholds by weakening their ability to blind us. Food, for example, has the power to satisfy us, hiding deeper hungers and needs that we have. Specific comfort foods distract us from how selfish we are, but losing them flames our irritations causing us to begin to choose. Will we remain in our selfish addiction, or has it held us long enough in faux happiness? Can we instead satisfy the needs of another.
Fasting breaks our will, starves habits, flushes out true emotions, demands non-stimulation based satisfaction. It will lead us to ultimate truth that is infinitely more satisfying.
Alms and the material world
Almsgiving has the duality of being commanded as another internal, non-public activity while at the same time being a gift to someone in need thereby making it non-private in nature. There’s no necessity in being overly literal for any of these three. There is no blessing lost if someone finds out about a fast, or sees you pray. The issue is the heart and intention of the will. Alms takes away our ability to be selfish or self indulgent because it removes from us the means to do it. Alms can be any size but they are not meant to be out of our abundance. They should affect us. While they shouldn't leave our families in want, their presence should make a discernible mark in our own ability to gather, consume or hold on to.
Alms separate us from the material world. They do not tell us that the physical world is evil, as some religious thought would, but rather they show that the highest satisfaction is the usage of those materials for our collective good and for love. Money is a wonderful tool when used to exercise dominion over the world by ordering it and making life and love flourish. Alms teach us that.
Alms separate us from fear of loss and false security of hoarding. They reorder the material world into one of participation with its things and people, halting the consuming stockpiling mentality that divides people into classes of society with varying production values.