Fast, Pray and Persevere: The Story of St. Paul the Simple
Fasting and perseverance are exceedingly important both to a life of deep prayer that can lead to a mystical encounter with God, and a vital component to a life lived in vocation. These ideas are highlighted in three important passages of Sacred Scripture.
The first is in Luke 2:37 where Anna, a prophet, “did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.” The second is in Acts 13:2-3 where the Apostles were “worshiping the Lord and fasting” then laid their hands on Barnabas and Saul. The third is in Mark when “The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness” for forty days (1:12-13) after which, Jesus cast out demons and healed the sick (v. 34).
We find this same connection between fasting, prayer, and perseverance throughout the history of the Church. One example comes to us from St. Paul the Simple who lived in the fourth century. We remember him because he sought to become a monk at the age of sixty, asking the advice and intercession of St. Anthony the Abbott.
The story of Paul, as Palladius heard it from men who had known St. Anthony, was as follows: Paul was a husbandman, very simple and guileless. One day, on discovering the infidelity of his wife, he set off to be a monk. He knocked at the door of St. Anthony's cell. This is the substance of the dialogue which ensued:
Anthony: “What do you want?” Paul: “To be a monk.”
Anthony: “It is quite impossible for you, a man of sixty. Be content with the life of a labourer, giving thanks to God.”
Paul: “Whatsoever you teach me I will do.”
Anthony: “If a monk you must be, go to a cenobium. I live here alone only eating once every five days.”
With this St. Anthony […] set him to work […]. When it was evening he asked him if he was ready to eat […] St. Anthony produced some crusts, took one himself, and gave the old man three. Then followed a long grace […]. When each had eaten a crust Paul was told to take another.
Paul: “If you do, I will; if you don't, I won’t.”
Anthony: “I am a monk, and one is enough for me.”
Paul: “It is enough for me, for I am going to be a monk.”
Then came twelve prayers and as many Psalms, followed by a little sleep […] Finally Paul got what he wanted […] a cell for himself […] In a year's time the grace of healing and casting out devils was bestowed upon Paul. (“St. Paul the Simple,” 5 May 2015, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11591a.htm>)
While most of us will not live our lives as sparse as St. Paul the Simple, fasting and perseverance are still vital to our prayer life because it brings us closer to God, enables us to defeat evil, and to live our lives according to the will of God.
So ask yourself: do I fast as the Church teaches as a preparation for a life of prayer? Do I have what it takes to persevere? Let us pray for each other so that we may all decide to live our lives in this way.