Prayer and fasting are crucial, particularly in our current culture. There are so many massively tragic occurrences and situations in the world and our own country that cry out for reparation. There also exists widespread apathy and a culture of instant gratification, which can and must be counteracted with a strong effort by the faithful to pray and fast.
In years past, it seemed that fasting had become rather downplayed even amongst Catholics. Praise be to God, this situation appears to be changing. A number of organizations are urging prayer and fasting and many of the faithful are answering this call, and not just during Lent. In recent months, we find instances of this appeal. For example, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has initiated a Call to Prayer and put together a compelling one and a half minute video inviting the faithful to “join a movement of prayer and sacrifice for the protection of life, marriage, and religious liberty in our country.” Operation Storm Heaven is a campaign inviting Catholics to join a spiritual army of “Rosary Warriors,” praying in union with Masses and Rosaries of Raymond Cardinal Burke and priests who pledge Masses on the website. Operation Storm Heaven aims to rally and assemble the faithful into a united voice of prayer, “to besiege Heaven with prayer, and to spread the Light of Truth throughout America and the world.” MyConsecration.org is prompting all to join a “Lenten Mercy Challenge” of fasting on bread and water and praying a decade of the Rosary during lunch on the Fridays of Lent, offering these as acts of mercy for special intentions. Finally, a noteworthy instance of an immensely successful and powerful call to prayer is 40 Days for Life which calls all to gather and pray to end abortion. This group tracks the number of lives saved and is spreading to other countries—two tangible proofs of the power of united prayer.
Through the prophets of our day, God is calling for prayer and fasting. This call is clear and urgent. God desires not the destruction of His children, but rather their conversion. Our culture and society are not doomed to the downward spiral toward which they are pitched. It could take 10 years, or even a generation, for people to realize the mayhem that godlessness and immorality causes. However, the most hopeful sign of the rescue of our society is these spreading calls to prayer and action. Even while many fall victim to the deceptions of the world, the hearts of many others are being lit with ardent faith and selfless love. Such an intense blaze cannot help but spread. God is raising up a people through which to radiate the light of Truth and Mercy.
Now when we, the faithful, go about answering the call to fast and offer sacrifices of self-denial for these intentions, what should this effort look like? It can sometimes be hard to maintain the most suitable disposition for prayer and fasting. We do them for all the right reasons—for mercy, for reparation, for the spread of truth and goodness, for an increase in fortitude and virtue in ourselves. We ask Jesus to unite them to the power of His Passion. But how can we make our offering a more intimate encounter with Our Lord? How can we more perfectly unite our sacrifices to our words of prayer and even make every single act of self-surrender a prayer in itself?
A poignant example that answers these questions comes from the writings of a humble early 20th century nun and mystic to whom Jesus appeared on a regular basis. She writes:
From time to time [Jesus] stopped me in my work, and once while I was sweeping the old cloister of Les Feuillants, …He asked: "Why are you doing that?"
He seemed to take delight in the answer He forecast: "Lord, I do it because I love Thee. See all the tiles of this corridor—as many times I say: I love Thee, Lord."
(Our Lord to Sr. Josefa Menendez, Way of Divine Love, November 22, 1920)
There are several aspects of this sweet exchange that are remarkable and worthy of imitation. In this exchange, we see that no matter what the selfless act, whether it is a small Lenten sacrifice or an ordinary action of our daily life (here, sweeping the tiles of the floor), we can give every little thing as an offering of love. By saying "I do this because I love Thee, Lord," our every single action is transformed into love. In this way, even little things we loathe to do acquire the joy that love confers. Even the smallest duties we would rather avoid or put off until later, such as washing a dirty dish, become occasions to love. How wonderful it is that we can love Our Lord through even the smallest things and through every action and effort of our most ordinary of days.
Another notable detail in this exchange is that Jesus took "delight" in the answer of this obscure young nun. Jesus delights in every tiny expression of love we give Him either through a mundane duty or through even the most minute selfless act of charitable assistance of our neighbor. This delight of Our Lord is the source of the joy we receive when we perform an act "because I love Thee, Lord."
An interesting aspect of the exchange is that Jesus "forecast" the answer the simple nun gave. He knew she would say she loves Him, yet still He asked her! This aspect reveals how God never tires of hearing of our love for Him no matter how much we repeat it. Jesus desires and treasures our ever-new expressions of love through every act and effort. This understanding also encourages us to be faithful in offering every act with love reminding us that even the smallest act can be transformed into great love for Him.
In acts offered for love of the Lord, we can see the unification of the three pillars of Lent--prayer, fasting, and works of charity. Any act of self-denial is a form of fasting and when we act selflessly for the good of another it becomes also a charitable act. Then, when we perform the act to express, "I love Thee, Lord," prayer is infused into the act. In this way, we can accomplish all three of the pillars of Lent not only in formidable efforts but also in even the smallest of actions.
Comments, Questions, Suggestions:
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"Bishops' Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty." USCCB.org. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2016. Web. 1 March 2016.
Menendez, Josefa. The Way of Divine Love. Rockford, IL: Tan Books and Publishers, 1972.
Mooney, Ray. "Lenten Mercy Challenge." My Consecration. Children of the Father Foundation, 2015. Web. 1 March 2016.
"Take Heaven By Storm." Catholic Action. Catholic Action for Faith and Family, 2015. Web. 1 March 2016.
40daysforlife.com. 40 Days For Life, 2016. Web. 1 March 2016.