Tag Archives: fasting

Living in Lent

9 Feb

valentineThis year the first Sunday of Lent falls on Valentine’s Day. While prayer, fasting, and almsgiving don’t seem particularly romantic, there is actually a significant tie-in.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is tempted by Satan to put temporal things such as money and power before His relationship with the Father. Isn’t that what gets in the way of our feeling “in love” in our marriages? Long hours at work crowd out time together. Stress about bills tends to make us snap at each other. A desire to be right drives a wedge between us.

We don’t mean it, but sometimes these things get in the way of the fundamental truth that we are a man and woman in love.

If this is our situation, what if we decided to rethink Lent this year? What if we skipped giving up chocolate and instead tried to do something we know would make our spouse feel more loved? Here are some ideas:

  • Skip lunch out at work and buy flowers with the money.
  • Fast from criticism.
  • Suggest a date night (out or in) that includes your spouse’s favorite activity.
  • Make an effort to correct a habit that irritates your spouse.
  • Be home by 6 for dinner.
  • Set a specific time to pray for or with your spouse.

For marriage enrichment opportunities, check out www.archkck.org/family. Let us take advantage of the graces of Lent to help improve our most significant relationship!

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

Family Ideas for Lent

11 Feb

40 daysLent can be a hard season to get excited about. Surely it lacks the jingle and sparkle of Advent. Even more, it’s longer, falls right as we are getting sick of winter and, more to the point, involves sacrifice.

Further, it’s difficult to explain to kids. Most kids can understand the excitement of waiting for a baby to be born. Even when there is sacrifice involved in Advent, it’s surrounded by a sense of joy. Many of us have a much harder time giving our kids a good focus for the sacrifice that leads up to . . . the violent death of our Savior.

Below are some suggestions for activities that can (hopefully) help your family to embrace the three practices of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Prayer. Prayer is simply talking to God. The formal prayers of our Church are ways that Christians have been talking to God for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. I think we need both “from the heart” time with God, as well as a way to connect with all those who have come before us (“formal” prayer). Here are some suggestions for ways to bring prayer alive for your family:

  • For younger children:
    • help them to tell God one thing they are grateful for and one thing they really need each day
    • print off a children’s version of the Stations of the Cross (some even have coloring pages), and talk about one each day
  • For older children:
    • Read scripture (maybe the Sunday Gospels?) and have them tell you one line that stood out to them and ask them why
    • Engage their strengths in learning the Stations of the Cross. If they are artistic, they can draw one per day or week. If they are writers they can write prayers for each station, etc.
    • Find famous paintings of the Stations from different cultures and explore them with your children
  • For teens:
    • Encourage them to start a prayer journal that you won’t look at
    • Use Lent as an excuse to get involved in a good youth group or teen retreat
    • Have teens write a “teen stations,” relating one or more of the Stations to the difficulties that teenagers face
  • As a family:
    • Make a regular time to pray together. If that is totally new to your family, try just saying one thing you are grateful to God for each day. Other options are a family Rosary, a chaplet of Divine Mercy, a decade of the Rosary, or one Station of the Cross each day
    • Use Stations the children have made (or print some from the internet) and put a small votive near each one around your home. Move around the house as you would around the Church as you pray.
    • Choose a short Scripture verse that is appropriate for the season and say it after every meal. You and your children will have it memorized in no time!

Fasting. I think the key to successful fasting as a family is to explain to everyone what it’s for. When we fast, we give up a material good for a spiritual one. Even young children can understand what it is to give something up for someone else. For example, my son was terrified of getting a flu shot last year, but he found courage to do it when we told him that he was protecting his baby sister from getting the flu. We sacrifice out of love for God.

  • For children:
    • Make a “crown of thorns” out of clay or craft wire with toothpicks for “thorns.” Each time a member of the family makes a small sacrifice, they take a thorn out of Jesus’ crown. This is a way of connecting their sacrifice to love for Jesus.
    • For each sacrifice, children get to put jellybean in a jar . . . that they can eat during the Easter season!
    • Remind children that sacrifices should be something they like that they are giving up, or something hard for them to do (i.e. doing what mom asks the first time they are asked!) Varying the sacrifices can keep it from being too burdensome, and can help children start thinking of ways they can sacrifice for others.
  • For teens:
    • Have your teens consider giving up video games, iPad, Facebook, cell phone time (for non-essential purposes), etc. If the prospect of being unplugged for 40 days is too overwhelming, maybe consider unplugging on Fridays. Hint: agree to do it with your child!
    • Ask teens to help plan and prepare the Friday meatless meal. They may enjoy looking into meatless meals that are a staple for other cultures.
    • Invite your teen to “give up” a treat that costs money such as a movie out with friends, a snack after school, etc. Put that money in a jar and allow them to choose the charity for donation.
  • For families:
    • Choose one night a week during Lent to be family night, where all activities are cancelled (this may take some serious effort!). Use the time to pray a little bit, then either play board games or watch a movie with a good message that will inspire conversation.
    • Join in with one of the other activities above.
    • Consider one thing your family can “give up” together.

Almsgiving. Almsgiving just means serving others out of love. Several of the suggestions above for sacrifice could be used for this as well, but here are a few more:

  • Parents “pay” for each sacrifice, putting coins in a jar for each good deed. Alternately, if there is a behavior your family is working on changing (for instance, saying “Oh my God!”), each member of the family can put a quarter of their own money in each time they say it! The money then goes to a charity of the family’s choice.
  • Skip a meal out in order to buy your family’s favorite groceries for a food pantry.
  • Volunteer together at your favorite organization together.
  • Practice “deliberate acts of kindness” within the family. You can even do a Lenten spin on the “Advent Angel” idea, having each member do secret, thoughtful deeds for another family member.

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, nor could any family handle everything mentioned. I hope it has gotten you thinking, though, about what will best help your family grow in holiness. Happy Lent, everyone!

God’s “Secret Service”

18 Jun

Sermon on the MountIn today’s Gospel from the Sermon on the Mount, Christ Himself teaches us about the traditional expressions of Christian piety: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. We hear about these things quite a bit during Lent, but really, they should be part of the fabric of the Christian life throughout the entire year. They purify our hearts and draw us closer to Our Lord and to our neighbor, especially the poor.

For that reason, one would think that it would be really edifying to see others fasting, praying, and giving alms. After all, good role models always help, right?

Yet, Our Lord’s recurring message today is to do these things in secret, when no one is looking, behind closed doors. Don’t even let your right hand know what the left hand is doing. The only one who needs to know the good that we’re doing is our heavenly Father.

But why is that? Why shouldn’t others be able to watch and learn from us?

The answer is that of course our actions should be edifying to others (cf. Mt. 5:16). However, as Our Lord explains in the course of His teaching, it is very easy for us to do things in order that others will notice us and think well of us. That’s pride, not good example. Sure, there are times that we do good things and others may notice, to their benefit. But our motive must always be  God’s glory, not our reputation. The best way to guard against the temptation to pride is to keep our acts of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving—as well as other acts of charity–to ourselves as much as possible. When we do that, we’re more likely to serve God and not ourselves.

And that’s the point, isn’t it?

Are Sundays of Lent Days of Penance?

25 Mar

Sundays during Lent have a penitential character, but one markedly different from that of the weekdays of Lent. Because Sunday is primarily a day of celebration of the Resurrection (Catechism, nos. 2174, 2177), it is not counted among the “forty days” of Lent that are traditionally marked by fasting.

“The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice” (Catechism, no. 2181) and retains its essential character as a day marked by “worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body” (Catechism, no. 2185).

Nevertheless, the entire season of Lent, including the Sundays of Lent, is a time of penance. The penitential character of Sundays of Lent is reflected in the wearing of violet vestments and the prayers and readings of the Sunday Masses. It is also reflected in the prohibitions of the singing of the Gloria and the Alleluia, the adorning of the altar with flowers, and the playing of the organ and other instruments (except for the purpose of accompaniment).

The discipline of the Church and the piety of Christians throughout the centuries demonstrate that penance is expressed differently on Sundays of Lent from weekdays of Lent. In the early Middle Ages in the West, the weekdays of Lent were days of fast (one meal) and abstinence (at that time, from dairy products as well as from meat), while Sundays of Lent were days of abstinence only. The Holy See later permitted meat and dairy products to be eaten on Sundays of Lent. Today, of course, only Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fast and abstinence (from meat), while all the Fridays of Lent are days of abstinence.

Penance extends beyond fasting. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

“The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works)” (no. 1438).

Sundays of Lent, then, have a penitential character, which may include spiritual practices such as prayer, almsgiving, pilgrimages, and retreats, without in any way losing the sense of their being set apart as the “Lord’s Day.”

Click here for more on the history of Lenten observances.

Give It Up!

4 Mar

I remember well my first Lent in a religious community in the 1980s. Most of us seminarians, like many people out in the world, gave up sweets for 40 days. The one time that this penance really came into play was during the afternoon coffee break. The nearby Au Bon Pain restaurant donated day-old pastries to the seminary, and these were typically brought out to give us a little sugar boost to get us through metaphysics and epistemology (with mixed results).

So, while the rest of us were wistfully looking at the full tray of Au Bon Pain goodies, one delightfully chubby seminarian walked up and started munching on a big chocolate croissant. In between bites (barely) he told me, “This year I decided to do positive penance, so I’m just going to be charitable.”

The seminarian was joking, but this did illustrate how our image of ”Lenten penance” can become skewed. As we celebrate “Fat Tuesday” today in anticipation of the beginning of Lent tomorrow, I thought I would point out four approaches to Lent that seem a little disordered.

(1) Lobstermania

Of course all Catholics are called to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent. Hence we have all the fish fries, cheese enchilada nights, and “parish soup and stations [of the Cross]” nights. If one simply went from parish to parish on Fridays during Lent, one would eat better than he or she normally would the rest of the year.

There’s nothing wrong with this, and in fact, these events can have the positive effect of building up the parish community.

Still, the purpose of the meatless days is to provide an opportunity for self-denial, so I wonder about going out to restaurants for lobster, mahi mahi, or other seafood delicacies that are technically “legal,” but hardly penitential. For vegetarians and for those who love seafood, abstinence from meat requires little effort, and so the challenge for them–and for all of us–is to internalize both the letter and the spirit of the fast and abstinence laws.

(2) Legalism Gone Amuck

It’s always fun to see what little kids “give up” for Lent. Some of us, even as grown-up kids, have learned to work the system. We give up Diet Coke, but we can have Coke Zero or Diet Pepsi. We give up Mounds, so we have Almond Joy. We give up television, but rent a boatload of videos.

Or we’ll make crucial exceptions. We’ll give up watching sports, which isn’t too tough once football season is over, but then make an exception for March Madness or Opening Day at the K (in other words, when there’s a sporting event we really want to watch).

Or we’ll give up alcoholic beverages, but make exceptions for everyone’s birthday, baptism day, saint day, anniversary, Tuesdays, and national holidays. And of course Sundays, solemnities, and St. Patrick’s Day never count.

These are, of course, voluntary acts of penance, and at times adjustments need to be made out of charity and prudence. But sometimes we might ask ourselves how much we’re really willing to sacrifice for Our Lord.

(3) Catholic X-Games

This one is especially attractive to zealous young people who really want to “do something” for God. One year as a green “revert” to the faith I actually tried to fast the entire period of Lent on bread, limited amounts of juice, and water. I didn’t make it to Easter, and after a couple weeks I was so weak I couldn’t do much of anything.

In subsequent years I tried to moderate the penances a little more, but still went a little overboard, especially when it came to depriving myself of sleep.

Therein we see the importance of having a sound spiritual guide who can help us maintain a healthier balance in our lives, especially given our work and family responsibilities. But even more, we can’t allow our penances to devolve into mere “feats of will power” rather than loving offerings to God. It’s not about us.

(4) Catholic Weight Loss Plan

All this talk of fast and abstinence ties in nicely with the need most of us have to lose a few pounds (okay, in my case, more than a few pounds). Hey, why start a diet on New Year’s with the Super Bowl just around the corner? And besides, why do you think they call it “Fat Tuesday” (Mardi Gras)? The idea is that we binge through Super Bowl weekend, culminating in an outlandish display of gluttony on Fat Tuesday. Even if we didn’t need to go on a diet before, we need to now!

There’s nothing wrong with losing some weight this month, and the fact that Lent provides some built-in impetus for such self-improvement can be a real blessing. The only caveat is that Lent is about 40 days of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in anticipation of Our Lord’s suffering, death, and resurrection. We’re training for Easter, not for the Olympics or a Nutrasystems ad!

And a legitimate weight-control (and spiritual) program should be year-round and avoid gluttonous behavior.

Okay, those are a few mindsets to avoid. But how should we approach Lent?

I think how this time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving plays out differs from person to person, and our own individual approach varies as we go through different stages of life. But one thing is sure: Whatever we do, our focus should be primarily on the Lord, and secondarily on serving Him in the poor and needy in our midst.

Maybe my seminarian friend was right after all. It would be a most fruitful Lent indeed if I become more charitable–love God more, and love my neighbor more. Everything else is just (lo-cal, meatless) gravy.

U.S. Bishops Announce Five-Point Plan

17 Dec

usccb-logoEarlier this month, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced a campaign of prayer and fasting in 2013 for the “rebuilding of a culture favorable to life and marriage and for increased protections of religious liberty.”

The campaign, which will begin the Sunday after Christmas, “is essentially a call and encouragement to prayer and sacrifice--it’s meant to be simple," said Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. “It’s not meant to be another program but rather part of a movement for life, marriage, and religious liberty, which engages the New Evangelization and can be incorporated into the Year of Faith.”

In addition, as a culture that tends to make “New Year’s resolutions,” we do well as individuals, families, and parishes to incorporate this plan--especially the call to abstain from meat and fast on all Fridays--into our own lives. In doing so, we would be following the edifying example of Archbishop Naumann.

The campaign, which will begin the Sunday after Christmas, has five parts: Continue reading

Reflections on Fasting

13 Mar

How’s your Lenten fast going? Is it getting tough? Are you steadily holding firm? Have you given up? Or maybe you are starting to lose your attachment to what you gave up.  Wherever you are at with your fast, I want to share a little bit about what I have been reflecting on as I fast this season.

Remember for whom you fast.  My dad is a pilot and can get passes for my family.  He recently gave up a whole day to take my son out east to visit.  He had to get up at the crack of dawn to catch a flight to KC, and due to a flight delay, he didn’t get back home until around 9pm.  He endured a long, boring day of sitting on airplanes and in the KC airport, but did it without a second thought in order to spend time with his grandson and to save us the airfare.

Have you ever had someone do you a favor like this? Conversely, have you ever had someone do you a favor with such a bad attitude that you would have rather done it yourself? In either circumstance, you know how important the disposition of the giver is.  When we are fasting, it’s good to keep in mind that we are doing this for someone, not just gritting through something uncomfortable just for the heck of it.  We fast for Jesus, who gave up so much more for us than we can imagine.  How can I complain about passing up a bowl of ice cream when the one I offer the sacrifice for shed every last drop of blood for me? We want our sacrifice to be a joyful gift to Jesus.

Fasting as bonding.  When my son Peter was critically ill and it was obvious that he would die, friends of ours drove from Minnesota (where we lived) to St. Louis (where he was in the hospital) just to be with us.  They knew they couldn’t “do” anything for Peter, but they wanted to share in our sorrow, so they came. Then, they returned home a day before us and cleaned my whole house since I had left it in a hurry and it was in no shape to host my whole family who would be coming up for the wake and funeral.  In the following months they continued their love and support.  I now live 6 hours away from these people, but they will be lifelong friends.  Our friendship was tried in fire.

These friends came to mind when I heard a talk recently.  The speaker mentioned that when Jesus allows suffering in our lives it is out of a desire to grow closer to us by being together with us in our pain.  Jesus didn’t want my son to die, as death was never part of his original plan for mankind.  But he was glad to be closer to me than my friends from MN, or my family or anyone could have been.  And through that experience, I have grown deeper in my relationship with Him.  I think that when we fast, we are returning the favor.   By giving up something we like, we are saying to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, or on the Cross that we want to suffer a little bit with him.  We not only want to think about his passion, but enter into it in some small way.

Fasting is decadent.  Every once and a while in my house we run out of Tupperware.  When that happens, I will scratch my head wondering who didn’t return a container or if there are gnomes that roam our house at night searching for the plastic stuff.  Then, I clean out the fridge and my supply is magically replenished! In this analogy, if we don’t clear out the putrid, rotting leftovers in our lives, there is no room for storing the freshly baked muffins.

The connection to fasting is this.  We often cling to things that keep us from receiving all that God has for us.   Fasting helps us to empty ourselves of not only nasty stuff, but of things that are good, but get in the way. So often we focus our fasting on being sad for losing the things we liked.  How much would we benefit from focusing on all the good things God will fill us with instead!

At this halfway point in Lent, things can start to drag a little.  My prayer is that we all gain a spiritual “second wind”, and wherever we are in our Lenten observances, renew our efforts to grow in love of God in this holy season.