January 28, 2022
Feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas
My sisters and brothers in the Lord,
Welcome to Week Four of Disciples Together on the Way. I hope you enjoyed the first three on the theme of Praise. What a great starting point. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: Praise embraces the other forms of prayer and carries them toward him who is its source and goal: the "one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist." Amen. And, so, now to our next theme. For the next four weeks, our discipleship challenges will emphasize self-denial or, as it is often called, asceticism.
Okay. Let’s get straight to it. This week’s challenge is to fast from something each and every day except Sunday. For example, fast from unnecessary mobile phone use; or time spent on social media; or watching TV; or alcohol; or desserts. In short: Think of something you’d really hate to go without…and then go without it. So, take a moment in prayer today or tomorrow to ask God what it is you should give up this week.
In addition, this coming Friday we will also fast from our normal amount of food. That means eating only one full meal with the other two meals reduced to something like snacks.
Now if you’re anything like me, you probably don’t like fasting. Yet Jesus fasted. There’s also a long tradition in the Church of fasting throughout Lent and on other penitential days, such as Fridays. So as disciples of Jesus, it’s important that we not ignore either fasting or, more generally, asceticism. And I think we will even see that, when we embrace more self-denial in our life, we will find that life becomes more meaningful as we become less dependent on comfort and pleasure, more attentive to the Holy Spirit, and ultimately, more free to give and receive love.
Why should that be the case? To understand the need for fasting better, let’s turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Catechism tells us that Jesus calls all of us to conversion and penance. This is not just an initial conversion to the Gospel, as important as that is, but it is a lifelong task! A daily conversion. What Jesus is truly seeking from us is an interior conversion of the heart, where our life is completely reoriented toward God and to the Gospel. The Catechism says that this interior conversion primarily consists of three things: fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. The 5th century Italian saint, Saint Peter Chrysologus, beautifully explains this. He says: “Fasting is the soul of prayer, almsgiving is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing.” End quote. Enough said.
So, if we are truly to be disciples of Christ, we must not neglect any of these three. Dare I suggest that — particularly in our modern world of comfort, distraction, and abundance — that we too often neglect fasting? Could this neglect of fasting and asceticism be limiting our discipleship?
So, over the next week, let’s start to rediscover the importance of fasting in our lives. In our personal prayer each day, let’s consider ways that we can embrace fasting not just this week, but in our daily lives. Here are a few ideas. Did you know that every Friday of the year is an obligatory day of penance for all Catholics? While not required in the United States, many Catholics continue to embrace the traditional practice of abstaining from meat. The US bishops have also recommended treating Friday as a mini-Lent, making it a day of fasting and abstinence. Not only can fasting help make our spiritual life more focused and prayerful, it also makes each Sunday that much more celebratory.
So, to recap: This week’s challenge is to fast from something each and every day except Sunday and on Friday we’ll also fast from our normal amount of food.
Next week, we’ll continue our theme of asceticism and I’ll be back with another challenge. Until then, may God bless you throughout this coming week, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Yours in Christ,
+ Earl Boyea
Bishop of Lansing