Ash Wednesday #ashtag

ash wednesdayToday begins the Holy Season of Lent! This is a joyful season, a positive time for new life to appear, bad habits to disappear, a time of preparing with our minds and hearts renewed.

Pope Francis in this year’s Lenten message, “The Word is a Gift, Other Persons Are Gifts,” writes, “Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ’s victory over death. This season urgently calls us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God “with all their hearts” (Joel 2:12), to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord. Jesus is the faithful friend who never abandons us. Even when we sin, he patiently awaits our return; by that patient expectation, he shows us his readiness to forgive (cf. Homily, 8 January 2016).”  He also references the parable of Lazarus and the rich man and that, “Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift.”

In Pope Benedict XVI’s papal Lenten message (2009), he wrote: “The Sacred Scriptures and the entire Christian tradition teach that fasting is a great help to avoid sin and all that leads to it. For this reason, the history of salvation is replete with occasions that invite fasting.”

The self-denial of fasting helps us to appreciate and embrace what Lent is all about: a time to return to the Lord with our whole hearts, a time of penance to prepare our hearts for the Risen Lord.  Since we have already been fasting throughout the year on Wednesdays and Fridays, what can we do to make Lent even more penitential? What can we do to “step it up a notch?” What other practices can we take part in over the next six weeks to prepare our hearts and souls for the Risen Lord?

Daily Mass, Adoration, reading/reflecting on Scripture, reciting the Rosary, the Seven Sorrows Chaplet, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Stations of the Cross, and almsgiving are all excellent ways to journey with Christ through Lent.  In keeping with the Holy Father’s Lenten message that “other persons are a gift,” we could also visit the elderly, sick and imprisoned.  The gift of our time during this penitential season is something that can be priceless to those who are lonely and shut-in.

As we begin Lent in earnest, let us pray that the self-denial of fasting will help to prepare our hearts for the Risen Lord. Let us joyfully attend Mass as often as we can, read Scripture, recite the Rosary and other chaplets as well as visit the elderly and sick.

As Pope Francis says, “…refuse to settle for mediocrity.”

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Fasting and Peace

copyright 2013 Ellen Hrkach please do not use without permission

copyright 2013 Ellen Hrkach please do not use without permission

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”   The opening words to the song “Let There Be Peace on Earth” are simple but profound.

Of course, everyone wants peace: no wars, no bickering, no slavery, no oppression etc. 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’s hard to find that peace within ourselves.

The truth is that peace does begin “with me.”

How can we cultivate this peace in our hearts?

It might seem like a simple answer, but 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.

Let’s take for example, forgiving someone. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, 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.

The testimony below from one of the Live the Fast community members might help to illustrate this:

“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 verbal abuse. 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 someone had suggested that I fast and pray for this relative in order to help me to forgive her. So I fasted and prayed for her and eventually, I realized that I had been able 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 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!

For more information on how to get started with fasting, check out our website (http://livethefast.org) Always check with your physician before beginning any fasting routine.

To sign up for LTF’s free biweekly fasting newsletter, click here.

Live the Fast is a Roman Catholic Apostolate that is focused on bringing more awareness to the discipline of fasting by offering educational resources on prayer and fasting, a prayer community that will inspire one to live the fast and providing nutritious fasting breads. (Priests and religious receive fasting breads and resources free of charge.)

Pretzels for Lent

I am originally from New Jersey, so Philadelphia soft pretzels were a common snack both at home and at school when I was growing up. Soft pretzels, however, are a rare commodity up here in Canada.

This is an ideal project to do with children and teens. Twisting the dough just right is a bit of a challenge, but no matter what they look like, they always taste great!

According to some sources, the shape of pretzels was meant to illustrate arms crossed in prayer.

Years ago, during Lent, the faithful were called to abstain from meat, eggs, milk and butter. Pretzels were an ideal food to eat because it was free of these ingredients. We use a recipe similar to this recipe, except we do not use butter.

This link has more information about the history of the pretzel.

Fasting: The Solution to Many Problems

Image from Fotolia

Image from Fotolia

My latest post at Catholic 365:

Wars, persecutions, terrorism, famine, greed, abortion, oppression, immorality, human trafficking, indifference, addictions, suicide, divorce: one need only look at the state of our world and at our own lives to know that there is a spiritual war going on, a battle between good and evil.

Many of us feel helpless. Some may even feel hopeless. We might ask, “What could an insignificant person like me do to combat the evil atrocities and immorality of the world today?”

There is something we can do! It’s a solution that might seem simple, but it’s an extremely powerful weapon against evil. That solution is fasting. Prayer and fasting as a team are very powerful weapons in own our spiritual battles as well as the spiritual warfare happening in the world. Jesus, the apostles, the saints, popes and many clerics have fasted and have urged others to do so.

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

St. Jean Vianney 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.” Satan hates fasting. Why? Because those who practice the regular self-denial of fasting increase in virtue and grow closer to Christ. Those who fast for others are generously denying themselves for others.

Lent is an ideal time to begin the penitential practice of fasting and self-denial. Scripture and Catholic tradition have always placed a great deal of emphasis on fasting and prayer. In the past 50 years, however, fasting has become less important to the modern day Catholic and many Catholics have become lazy in their faith. The self-denial of fasting is exactly the solution to the world’s problems and to our own eternal life.

Lent is a training ground, much like the 40 days fasting in the desert was training ground for Jesus, especially when He was tempted by Satan. During His time in the desert, Jesus was preparing to take up His own cross, to suffer a painful death, to redeem all mankind.

We all want to be prepared for eternal life. The penitential season of Lent with the self-denial of fasting can be our training ground and helps to prepare us for both our future crosses and for our eternal life. Fasting trains us in self-knowledge and is a key tool for mastery over one’s self.

Fasting allows us to help others, even strangers we’ve never met. It’s a generous, selfless act because when we fast and pray for someone in particular, fasting gives weight to our prayers for that person. Pope Francis said, “Fasting makes sense if it really chips away at our security and, as a consequence, benefits someone else, if it helps us cultivate the style of the good Samaritan, who bent down to his brother in need and took care of him.”

In Scripture, (Matthew 6) Jesus tells us how to pray, then immediately tells us to fast: When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.”

Jesus says, “When you fast,” not “if you fast.” Fasting and prayer are a team and are extremely powerful weapons against the evil one. “The disciples asked Jesus, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it (demon) out?’ He replied, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.’” Mark 9:27-29

Fasting is responsible for many miracles throughout history. One miracle happened in Hiroshima, Japan. Eight Jesuit German priests fasted and prayed the rosary daily before the Atomic bomb hit in August 1945. Their parish house was only eight houses away from the center of the atomic bomb blast. Although most people within a one-mile radius of the blast were either killed instantly or died afterwards from radiation poisoning, none of the priests suffered more than a scratch, and none of them ever experienced any after-effects of radiation. Doctors kept track of them for years and none of the priests ever suffered any ill effects. (To read about more fasting miracles, click here.)

Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea recently revealed his secret weapon for spiritual warfare: prayer and fasting. When he first became an archbishop, Cardinal Sarah made a commitment to do a three-day retreat every two months. During these retreats, he completely fasts from both food and water, and takes with him only the basic supplies for Mass, the Bible, and other spiritual reading. He says this has helped him “to recharge and return to the battle.” (source: http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/issues/february-5th-2016/meet-the-cardinal-who-recharges-for-battle-by-fasting-from-food-and-water/) Of course, there’s nothing new about prayer and fasting: Jesus fasted and commanded his disciples to do the same. If an elderly cardinal can fast, then we all can fast.

Another high ranking cleric, Bishop Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix, has recommended fasting in his exhortation, “Into the Breach.” “Turning away from the passions of the flesh, Jesus rejected Satan’s offering of bread in the desert, and in the Sermon on the Mount, twice He instructs us to fast (Matthew 6:16). Notice that the Lord does not say “if you fast” but rather “when you fast.” Fasting is training in self-knowledge, a key weapon for mastery over oneself. If we do not have dominion over our passions, especially those for food and sex, we cannot possess ourselves and put the interests of others in front of our own.”

There are so many great reasons to fast, but prayer and fasting as tools for spiritual warfare is one of the most important. Lent is an ideal time to begin the regular practice of self-denial. For those who cannot fast from food (like the sick, pregnant and elderly), they can choose to fast from television, social networking and other pleasurable activities on fasting days.

Lent is a time of change and sacrifice. Fasting and prayer together is the solution to the spiritual warfare that is going on in the world and in our own lives. Remember that Satan, the father of lies, hates fasting.

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!

For more information on how to get started with fasting, check out our website (http://livethefast.org) Always check with your physician before beginning any fasting routine.

To sign up for our free biweekly fasting newsletter, click here.

Live the Fast is a Roman Catholic Apostolate that is focused on bringing more awareness to the discipline of fasting by offering educational resources on prayer and fasting, a prayer community that will inspire one to live the fast and providing nutritious fasting breads. (Priests and religious receive fasting breads and resources free of charge.)

Ash Wednesday – 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.”

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.

For testimonies, prayers and more information about fasting, check out the Live the Fast website at www.livethefast.org or contact us at info@livethefast.org if you have any questions.

Live the Fast is a Roman Catholic Apostolate that is focused on bringing more awareness to the discipline of fasting by offering educational resources on prayer and fasting, a prayer community that will inspire one to live the fast and providing nutritious fasting breads. (Priests and religious receive fasting breads and resources free of charge.)

Fasting graphic by Darcie Nielsen

Fasting graphic by Darcie Nielsen