Strengthen Your Lenten Journey Through #Fasting

When you hear the word “fasting,” do you automatically cringe? Do you dread Ash Wednesday or Good Friday? Or do you embrace the self-denial of fasting on those days? If you’re like most people, you might not look forward to Ash Wednesday or Good Friday, the Church’s compulsory days of fasting. However, when you become accustomed to the regular practice of fasting throughout the year, these “compulsory” days are opportunities for abundant graces and spiritual growth.

Many people mistakenly believe that fasting belongs only in the Penitential Season of Lent. However, the regular self-denial of fasting is a positive and generous act that we can do all year round. After all, Jesus fasted — and He fasted before every major event in His life — and His apostles fasted. In Scripture, fasting is mentioned numerous times in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” Matthew 6:16-18

“But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it (demon) out?’ He replied, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.’” Mark 9:27-29

Peter said to Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68

Eternal life…isn’t that our goal? How do we get there? A virtuous life, one that is sacrificial, one that is obedient to God’s laws, this is the way to eternal life. Lent is an ideal time to embrace the practice of fasting. And not just on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday! Fasting can happen on every Wednesday and Friday throughout the year. The regular self-denial of fasting is definitely one of the ways to get to heaven and eternal life. Why?

Fasting opens our hearts to conversion, gives weight to our prayer intentions. Fasting strengthens us in resisting temptations, promotes peace in our hearts and peace with one another. Fasting teaches us the difference between wanting and needing. Fasting reminds us of the plight of the poor and those who are perpetually hungry. Fasting and prayer can free us from addictive behavior. Fasting invites the Holy Spirit in to heal our hearts, our relationship with God and our relationship with others. Fr. Slavko Barbaric said, “Fasting will lead us to a new freedom of heart and mind.”

St. Jean Vianney once said, “The devil is not greatly afraid of the discipline and other instruments of penance. That which beats him is the curtailment of one’s food, drink and sleep. There is nothing the devil fears more, consequently, nothing is more pleasing to God.”

I usually try to follow the Ash Wednesday/Good Friday rules for fasting. I eat two small meals and one larger meal that is equal to the two smaller meals together (and no meat, of course.)

There are so many great reasons to fast and Lent is an ideal time to begin this regular practice of self-denial. For the elderly and those who cannot fast from food, they can fast from TV, social networking, treats or coffee on Wednesday and Friday.

Lent is a time for change and sacrifice. If you can do penitential acts during Lent, you can do them all year round! To get started with fasting, please check out the graphic below. And always check with your physician before beginning any fasting routine.


In Memory of My Sister, Diane


Sisters 2018 L to R: Diane, me and Laurie

My sister, Diane, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly two days ago at the young age of 62. I’m in shock and still trying to process the news. She had health issues, but she was still working full-time.

One of the ways I handle grief is to keep busy. I’ve been looking through old photo albums searching for photos for Diane’s slide show to be shown at her wake.

Of course, as a writer, the other way I deal with grief is to write.

Diane was the second child and first daughter of my parents. She was also a Christmas present. Born six weeks early on December 24, 1956, she weighed 3 lbs, 15 oz.   My brother Mike was only 11 months old when my sister was born. When the doctor delivered my sister, he said, “I can’t believe it! Two tax exemptions in one year!”

Like most sisters/siblings, we had our good times and bad times.  We fought and made up too many times to count, but in these last ten years, we’ve had a closer relationship than ever, talking on the phone for an hour at a time every few weeks and emailing and texting frequently.

Here are some of my favorite memories and little-known facts about my sister:

When we were small children and Mom put us to bed, we would stay awake and play games like “You Don’t Say” and other guessing games. Often Mom would have to tell us to “Be quiet and go to sleep.”

One time when we were about ten and twelve, Di and I sneaked down to the Christmas tree in the living room before everyone else was awake to see what “Santa” had left.

Diane would give me hints about what she bought me for Christmas. And every year, I’d be surprised because the hints she gave me were only to distract me from guessing what the real gift was. You’d think after several years I would have caught on, but I never did and I was always surprised.

1971:  Diane and my brother Frank found and broke into my diary. They proceeded to mark each entry. If their name was in the entry, they gave it a good mark. Otherwise, there were a lot of F’s.  If I had to be honest, the entries were quite boring, talking about what grades I got in this or that subject. We laughed about it for years. And… I still have the diary with all the notations.

1975: We had a bad argument when we were teenagers. I don’t even remember what it was about. She was so angry that she proceeded to dump a glass of vegetable juice over my head.  I was shocked that she had done it, but then we both started laughing.  I asked her, “Do you feel better now?”  She responded, “Yeah, as a matter of fact, I do.”  That was another memory we laughed about for years.

1976: Di asked me to buy her some perfume when I went to France on a school trip.  I bought L’Interdit and she liked it so much, she continued using it for many years until it was discontinued.  She gave me a old container of it years ago and whenever I smell that scent, I think of her.

An entry from my diary in 1977: “Shopping with Diane is like putting yourself in front of a firing squad.  She must’ve tried on 30 different pieces of clothing in ten different stores and didn’t end up buying anything!”  (I’m not a patient shopper!)

1978: I was babysitting my cousin Eleanor’s daughter and my sister kept calling, but was quiet except for breathing.  I suspected it was her, but she never answered. I was trembling with fear and about to call the police. Finally, she called and laughed.  I was so glad it was her (and not a psychotic stalker) that I also laughed about it.

In recent years, she had developed emphysema so she depended on kind people to help her. She kept a stash of small angel pins to give to those who helped her. She would tell them, “You’re my angel.”

Two years ago, she recommended the TV show Blue Bloods and happened to own the first two seasons and asked if I wanted to borrow them.  I did, and I was hooked. I wound up purchasing the next few seasons and now watch that program regularly.

She also recommended a movie called “Lars and the Real Girl.”  When she told me the premise (a delusional young man strikes up an unconventional relationship with a doll he finds on the Internet), I told her I didn’t think I’d like it.  She said, “Trust me.  You’ll like it.” And, well, I did.  I would even say it’s up there among my top 100 movies. Excellent script, story and acting.  I’ll miss her future recommendations.

We both loved the rice pudding from The Meadows Diner in Blackwood, New Jersey. Every time I visited, I would bring her some (and enjoy some for myself!)

During our last conversation a few weeks ago, she shared with me that she hoped to come up to Canada for our first grandchild’s christening in the summer.  She told me that I would love being a grandmother because she loved being a Mom Mom to Lanna.  We talked about grandmother names that I might want to use. The last words we said to each other were, “I love you.”

I already miss her.  And I wish I could’ve said goodbye to her.  I know I’ll see her again someday and the reunion will be a joyous one.

Requiescat in pace, Diane.

May the choirs of angels come to greet you.
May they speed you to paradise.
May the Lord enfold you in His mercy.
May you find eternal life.  Amen.

December 24, 1956 – March 7, 2019

A memorial fund has been created in Diane’s name/memory to provide for her granddaughter, Lanna’s, education.  If you would like to contribute, here is the link.

Her obituary is here:

AAA all four

1961 L to R Mike, Diane, Frank, Ellen

AAA Di and me 2

1963: My sister (right) and me

AAAA all four Di Comm

Diane’s First Communion 1964

AAA Di and me


AAA My wedding

At my wedding, my sister (right) was the maid of honor

All five 1987 cropped

1987. After my youngest sister (Laurie) was born in 1981, we became five siblings! (L to R, Mike, Diane, Laurie, me,  Frank)

Fasting, Peace and Forgiveness


Copyright Josh Hrkach, used with permission

Lent is a time of change and sacrifice. In his Lenten Message of 2009, Pope Benedict XVI said, “The faithful practice of fasting contributes, moreover, to conferring unity to the whole person, body and soul, helping to avoid sin and grow in intimacy with the Lord.”

As we approach Lent this year, perhaps we can take some time to consider the spiritual practice of fasting and how it can cultivate peace in our hearts.

Everyone wants peace: no wars, no terrorism, no slavery, no abortion, no oppression. However, when we start arguing with someone about an insignificant topic, or when we don’t want to admit we’re wrong, or when we have a hard time forgiving someone, it can be difficult to find that peace within ourselves.

How can we foster this peace in our hearts?

Regular fasting (together with prayer) cultivates peace in our hearts. Fasting invites the Holy Spirit in to heal our hearts, our relationship with God, and our relationship with others. Fasting helps us to be selfless instead of selfish.

Let’s take for example, forgiving someone. We are all called to be merciful and forgive those who have hurt or offended us.

But what if the offense is grievous? Say, like torture, abuse, rape, or murder? And what if the person we must forgive is not repentant?

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus didn’t give any exceptions to this rule. We will be forgiven as we forgive those who trespass against us. We are still called to be merciful and to forgive regardless of the offense. We are all called to have peace in our hearts. Forgiveness and showing mercy to others helps heal our hearts and souls. However, forgiving someone, especially those who have grievously harmed us, is not easy and it is impossible without God’s grace. Fasting opens our hearts to this beautiful grace and peace.

Throughout my life, a relative of mine was verbally abusive to me and to others in our family. Eventually, she was diagnosed with a mental illness and, with medication, she was able to stop being verbally abusive. When she got older and began exhibiting signs of dementia, however, it seemed like she was falling back into her former caustic, abusive self.  I had thought that I had forgiven her but realized that I never did forgive her for all the cruel things she had said and done to me. At that point, I had already been fasting for several months, and my confessor suggested that I fast and pray for this relative to help me to forgive her. So I fasted and prayed for her and eventually, I realized that I had been given the grace to forgive her and to speak about and treat her with the utmost love and kindness. I don’t think I could have done that without praying and fasting for her.

Lent is a time of change and sacrifice. Fasting and prayer together will help to cultivate peace and forgiveness in our hearts. Fasting will invite the Holy Spirit in to heal our hearts, our relationship with God and our relationship with others.

Fasting is not an easy practice with our society’s current tendency to overindulge. However, if you can do penitential acts during Lent, if you can fast during Lent, then you can fast all year round!

What I try to do throughout the year is to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays (using the Ash Wednesday/Good Friday fast of no meat and eating two small meals, then one meal that is no larger than the two small meals combined).  I’m 59 years old, so fasting is not obligatory for me, but I fast because I’ve experienced many great spiritual, emotional, and physical benefits.

Always check with your physician before beginning any fasting routine.

Copyright 2019 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Open Book – March #openbook

An Open Book 800W

I’m joining with Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for Open Book!  Here’s what I’ve been reading for the past month!   It’s Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent!


Into Glorious Light

Into Glorious Light:

Memoir of Converting from Exhausted Atheist to Joyful Christian.

by Paul Keough

Amazon Synopsis: Warning to the hate-crime police: this memoir is not politically correct. What it is, though, is a story very appropriate for Valentine’s Day. It is a story of searching for truth and falling in love with something greater than oneself, greater than humanity, greater than nature, the world and the universe. Paul quickly realized – even as an atheist – that there is no point in trying to make everyone like you. No matter what position you take, there will always be someone on the opposite side of that opinion. Given that, we might as well pursue the truth and do what we think is right, correct?

Truth reveals itself as seen here in these three strange occurrences that challenged his concept of truth:

1. How does an atheist scientist end up married with several children? Is not the world overpopulating from the totalitarian perspective? If that is true, wouldn’t having several children be irresponsible? Why would a trained doctoral scientist from a top university do such a thing? Was he not shocked when he found scientists, business leaders, doctors, scientists, engineers and other intelligent rational professionals were having more than two children?

2. How does a Wall Street analyst in New York City, often considered the center and top of the world, voluntarily leave Wall Street when there was more and more money to be made? Had he lost his marbles? What could be better than making a ton of money? But then we look around and see that most Wall Street professionals do leave Wall Street on average about four years after starting… so the fact that Paul lasted twice that time also seems unlikely.

3. Why would a nerdy science geek break up with a handsome woman who comes from wealth? As an atheist, why would it matter that she claimed to be a witch? If there was no such thing as a witch, or anything like that, why care about any label she gave herself? Except … was there trouble coming from being with a person claiming to be a witch?

My review: Paul Keough has written a compelling memoir of his journey from atheist to Catholic Christian. The eighth of twelve children, his sometimes mentally unstable (Catholic) mother and abusive non-Catholic father made his early life difficult. Often retreating to the safety of his imagination, Keough’s dysfunctional family was not unlike many families.  His religious upbringing was limited to a very brief stint at a Catholic school and CCD.  Eventually, he chose not to continue practicing any faith and, by age 16, he had embraced atheism.  The author takes us on a step-by-step journey from his childhood, college years and young adult life to his years on Wall Street, to his eventual conversion.  Recently published, this book is an ideal gift to those friends, relatives and acquaintances who may be dabbling with atheism.  Highly recommend.



Bakhita: From Slave to Saint

by Roberto Italo Zanini

Amazon Synopsis: In 1948 Aurora Marin arrives with her family at the convent of the Canossian Sisters of Schio, Italy, where Sister Bakhita has just died. Aurora was hoping to see her before she died. She gathers her children around the picture of Bakhita and tells them of the incredible life of the woman that had raised her as her nanny.

Born in a village in Sudan, kidnapped by slavers, often beaten and abused, and later sold to Federico Marin, a Venetian merchant, Bakhita then came to Italy and became the nanny servant of Federico’s daughter, Aurora, who had lost her mother at birth. She is treated as an outcast by the peasants and the other servants due to her black skin and African background, but Bakhita is kind and generous to others. Bakhita gradually comes closer to God with the help of the kind village priest, and embraces the Catholic faith.

She requests to join the order of Canossian sisters, but Marin doesn’t want to give her up as his servant, treating her almost as his property. This leads to a moving court case that raised an uproar which impacts Bakhita’s freedom and ultimate decision to become a nun. Pope John Paul II declared her a saint in the year 2000.

My review: I’m not quite finished reading this book, but I’ve been inspired by its contents, and especially the dictated entries of Saint Josephine Bakhita to one of her fellow sisters.  Her story is one of great suffering and yet she shares her horrific journey with no sense of embellishment or exaggeration.  The strength of this book is in these entries, although the story behind the story is interesting too.  Highly recommend.


Poor Banished Children by Fiorella de Maria

Amazon Synopsis: An explosion is heard off the coast of seventeenth-century England, and a woman washes up on the shore. She is barely alive and does not speak English, but she asks for a priest . . . in Latin.

She has a confession to make and a story to tell, but who is she and from where has she come?

Cast out of her superstitious, Maltese family, Warda turns to begging and stealing until she is fostered by an understanding Catholic priest who teaches her the art of healing. Her willful nature and hard-earned independence make her unfit for marriage, and so the good priest sends Warda to serve an anchorite, in the hope that his protégé will discern a religious vocation.

Such a calling Warda never has the opportunity to hear. Barbary pirates raid her village, capture her and sell her into slavery in Muslim North Africa. In the merciless land of Warda’s captivity, her wits, nerve, and self-respect are tested daily, as she struggles to survive without submitting to total and permanent enslavement. As she is slowly worn down by the brutality of her circumstances, she comes to believe that God has abandoned her and falls into despair, hatred, and a pattern of behavior which, ironically, mirrors that of her masters.

Poor Banished Children is the tale of one woman’s relentless search for freedom and redemption. The historical novel raises challenging questions about the nature of courage, free will, and ultimately salvation.

My review: This is on my To-Read shelf.