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Fasting and the Current State of Our Church

  I love researching diets.  If it is new and popular, I probably have read about it some and maybe have even tried it.  Lately, fasting has gained popularity.  You can find books that will provide research on just how good fasting is for the body.  And, I have been intrigued, mainly because I am horrible at fasting and the thought of restricting myself from eating food completely sounds too extreme. 

As Catholics we are called to days of fasting and abstinence, and for as strong as I like to think I am, I am quite a wimpy "faster."  But, after reading a great deal about fasting and its physical benefits, I started to feel like God was asking me to get more serious about fasting, not for the physical benefits but for the spiritual ones.  My husband and I were out for a walk the other night and I was talking about my new found respect for fasting and how I feel called to do it more, for spiritual reasons, and I started to speak about how amazing it is that fasting has so many physical benefits and I practically shouted,. "Of course it does!  God wouldn't call us to fast for spiritual reasons at the deficit to our body!  He designed fasting to benefit us spiritually and physically!"

           And so for the last several weeks, I have begun to fast more, read scripture about fasting, and pray more while fasting.  I am certainly not great at it and there may have been a fasting day (or two) that ended with an unplanned glass of wine, but I began to grow in my desire for fasting.  And during this time too, I would read stories of pilgrims, going miles on their knees to seek healing, penitential acts of those seeking Christ's mercy.  And I thought about how comfortable I was NOT doing things like that.  Too comfortable. Why have we, as a culture and a Church, gotten away from practices like these?

           All of these revelations about fasting and penitence came right amidst the scandals and reports being released, the brokenness of our beloved Church and the sinfulness of some  of our Church's leaders finally exposed and in the light.  Like so many of the faithful, I read the details, sickened by the accounts of abuse and of it being brushed aside.  I read about the rise, and fall, of a cardinal that never should have donned red.  My heart ached.  And my heart ached more as I read the polished responses from our body of bishops.  I didn't want to read about policy changes that will be enacted (though they are needed).  I wanted to read that our holy bishops, too, had hearts that were breaking.  Hearts, willing to stand in the gap, and pray and fast in reparation for the sins of their fellow priests and bishops.  God was speaking to me so clearly about the necessity for fasting and true acts of penitence, why weren't our Shepherds on earth calling us all to a fast too?

           I read Matthew 23 and in these woes, I saw some of our church leaders.  And I got angry.   I got angry at them, and I got pretty mad at myself too.  Was I doing all I could do?  A few years ago, I was on a retreat led by a truly holy priest.  One of his talks centered around the need for the laity to pray for priests.  He reminded us, of what I so often don't even think about, that our priests are under constant attack.  Our fervent prayers, are like Aaron and Hur holding up Moses' arms when he no longer had the strength on his own (Exodus 17:12-15).  I realized that my simple mentioning a priest's name at the beginning of our family rosary, or saying "Lord hear our prayer" during the intentions for priests each Sunday was not the depth of prayer that God was asking of me for the men that He has called to the priesthood and to be our Shepherds.  

   He wants fasting.  Real, heart rending, fasting.  From me.  From our Bishops and Priests.  From all of us.  To heal our own physical bodies and to heal the body of Christ on earth, His Church.  

Put on sackcloth, you priests, and mourn; wail, you who minister before the altar. Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God; for the grain offerings and drink offerings are withheld from the house of your God. Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land
to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord. Joel 1:13-14

The scandal of McCarrick and the release of the grand jury findings are our Jonah, crying out in the streets, "Repent!"  

The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust.
This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. Jonah 3:5-10

The greatest to the least . . .   no matter our role, or lack thereof, in what is happening in our church. Fasting. Sackcloth. Ashes.
And just as the King of Nineveh rose from his throne, and removed his royal robes and proclaimed a fast, so too our church leaders.  I don't think Christ is asking for shiny pectoral crosses and beautiful vestments right now, that shine like whitewashed tombs, and I don't think that is what the hurting Body of Christ needs to see either.  We want a man like the King of Nineveh, willing to remove his robes, willing to sit with us in the dust and plead for God's mercy.
Sackcloth and ashes.  Every member of our church uniting to plead for God's mercy and for the Holy Spirit to cleanse the church.  
Christ's knees were bloodied and covered with dirt and sweat in reparation for our sins.  Let us all stand in the gap, allow our knees to become bruised and covered in dust and sweat in true prayer to our Father in heaven who can renew His Church.  

Please consider joining many in fasting and prayer for our priests each Friday from 9AM-5PM.  While a water fast has been suggested, please fast as you are able.  Those who are fasting will be offering up the Chaplet for Priests as well.  Thank you Alexis Love for sharing your heart and this fast with us all! 

Another great prayer for our priests can be found here.  This was the one that was given to me on the retreat I spoke of above.  I think it is time for me to print it out again and pray it every day!


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