Thursday, February 26, 2009

Prayer and Fasting

I had the privilege of attending a talk by Ivan Dragicevic, one of the 6 Medjugorje visionaries, last Monday night. We had an hour of the Rosary, during which the Virgin Mary appeared to him up by the altar, then we had Mass followed by Ivan's talk on Mary's message.

Her message, as it always does, revolves around peace, love, and a call to prayer, sacrifice and deep devotion to God. That is what she has been asking for in just about every apparition in all the centuries. Ivan talked to us about the type of prayer she wants: nothing less than wholehearted, passionate, intimate conversations with God, who made Himself incarnate to draw us nearer to Him.

She has said that we should all be praying 3 hours a day. People tend to react with immediate horror whenever they hear this. In Church on Monday the congregation gasped. Three hours! Every day! Impossible!

I don't think it is. Ivan clarified that it doesn't all have to be at once, nor does it have to be quiet, contemplative prayer. Reading the Bible counts. Attending Mass counts. Corporal works of mercy count.

And because I'm a mother, I've compiled a list to illustrate how a typical mom might be able to reach that three hours in fairly simple and straightforward ways without taking too much time out of her busy day:

Daily Mass: 30 minutes (if you're lucky enough to get a particularly long-winded or slow-talking presider, this could bump up to 45)

Morning Offering: 5 minutes

Nightly meditation: 5 minutes

Various daily prayers (to St. Anthony for a lost item, to Jesus, Mary and Joseph for patience, to the Holy Spirit to guide a conversation, to the Archangel Raphael for safe car rides, etc.) 5 minutes

Reading Bible or Daily Meditation: 15 minutes

Rosary after kids are in bed: 15-30 minutes (1 1/2 hours if full 20 mysteries are prayed)

Cheerfully singing hymns while washing dishes: 15 minutes

Moved to tears listening to local Christian radio station while running errands: 15 minutes

Reading Letters of St. Augustine or A Mother's Rule of Life or Daily Catholic news on web: 15 minutes

Making meal for friend who just delivered a baby or sorting and delivering donation to Goodwill or knitting scarf for homeless or packaging books for overseas soldiers or volunteering at nursing home or delivering communion to the homebound, etc etc: 30 minutes

Rocking child to sleep singing slow, meditative hymns: 15 minutes

TOTAL: 3 hours

Other suggestions:

Reciting seven Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Glory Bes while folding laundry/taking out garbage/waiting for schoolbus/emptying dishwasher/scrubbing bathtub/standing in checkout line/waiting on hold for customer service, etc.

Teaching children the name of a Saint and his/her patronage

Divine Mercy Chaplet or Chaplet to a Saint

Listening to Rosary on CD while driving


Participation in Parish organization (cleaning linens, baking host, St. Vincent de Paul, Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, etc.)


This last one I'd like to expand upon a bit. The messages from Medjugorje are explicit in their call for fasting. Mary is asking us to fast twice a week on Wednesdays and Fridays consuming only bread and water, and with the special intention for conversions (defined by Mary as anyone who has not felt the overpowering love of God in their lives.) Since Wendesday was Ash Wednesday and a day of fast anyway, I tried it.

I found it surprisingly easy. Not in the sense that it was fun, in any way enjoyable, or that I'm eager to do it again soon, but easy in the sense that I never felt unbearably hungry. I had thought, since bread and water is considerably stricter than the general Catholic guidelines for fasting (two small meals), that I would be doubled over in pain and nausea by the end of the day, desperate for nourishment.

On the contrary, the worst thing I experienced was a slight case of dry-mouth. My stomach barely rumbled. Like the time I gave up shoping for a week, the fast served to alert me to just how much excess food I consume in a day. It also brought home how often I eat just for the sake of eating. As my mother said when we discussed it today: "I know that I have all this food in my house. I have pecans in the pantry just waiting for me to eat them. Every single cuisine on Earth is available, from China to Argentina. It makes me want to eat." When we are surrounded by temptation, it makes it all the harder to resist.

Yet the truth is, our bodies don't NEED to eat three complete meals a day. We certainly don't need meat more than once a week, and unless we're digging a well or planning to raise up a barn, we certainly don't ever need "seconds."

So why do we eat so much? Well, because it's there. Studies have shown that people consume more food when they are served a large portion at a restaurant, regardless of how much they are paying for it. And if bread, condiments, appetizers and hearty beverages accompany the meal, people will eat those, too. (Interesting tidbit: 3-year-olds resist eating past the point of being full, 5-year-olds do not.)

Plus, food tastes good. We want to eat because we like the taste of things. That was mostly what I thought about during my fast when I was tempted by the smell of something. I thought about how good it would taste to chew it up and swallow it. My body was not sending me hunger signals, but my emotions were.

The hardest part of fasting is not the hunger. It's resisting temptation. Likewise, the hardest part of prayer is not the actual praying, but the setting time aside to do it. Whenever I begin the Rosary I feel such a sense of peace it makes me wonder why I put it off so often or get distracted by something else.

Discipline. That's the key to true spiritual fruit. This Lent, I hope to make myself and my desires smaller, while making God bigger. All Glory and Honor to You, Almighty Father, for ever and ever!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Wonder of wonders...

...miracle of miracles!

I wanted to take a brief moment and post here about an outstanding, completely unexpected breakthrough that occurred in my marriage recently.

My husband came up with a plan that allows us to give to charity every month.

For the last five years (ever since I gave up working outside the home) my husband has insisted that we have no money to give to charity. Though I felt comfortable tithing 10% of my own paycheck, once that disappeared I had nothing I could count as my own. So I gave away whatever cash came into my hands from family members, as gifts for my birthday or Christmas, change from buying lunch or coffee, etc.

About the time I began this blog, I decided to commit myself entirely to my husband's vision for our finances. I ceased asking him about charity and instead devoted my energies to spending as little of our money as I could. I turned over to my husband every penny I received as a gift, even though it offended my family members who intended it as "play money." My intention was to remove myself from the argument and really, wholeheartedly work for unity in my marriage. I wasn't going to change his mind, so it seemed the best idea was to embrace his plans and make them my own. I had some idea that he would be pleased to see me making an active investment in our financial future, and proud of my ability to spend wisely. I even thought God might reward my efforts with some sort of major change of heart, perhaps even a windfall of money that would allow us to start adoption proceedings.

As of November, this was looking to be a dismal failure. I was frustrated by my inability to keep to our monthly budget and exhausted by the mental effort it required to plan each grocery trip down to the last penny and deny myself practically everything I wanted to buy (goat cheese, home decor, clothes, replacement sneakers, snacks at the mall, visits to the chiropractor, etc.) Each time I put the pine nuts back on the shelf at the store, or adjusted the books in my daughter's broken cubby, I mentally fumed that these sacrifices were totally for naught. We weren't saving any money at all. To make matters worse, my husband hadn't even noticed. He was growing more and more concerned about our finances, to the point where he was having trouble sleeping from the stress. I felt I had no incentive to keep up my careful regimen even though I knew it was right and good to do so. I felt like our situation would never change, and I wondered why God didn't seem to be doing anything to change it.

By the grace of God and guidance of the Holy Spirit, I refrained from sharing any of my feelings with my husband. I just kept on as I had been, and instead of giving me cash, my family started buying us groceries and home improvements. In December however, directly on the heels of going over-budget in November and with Christmas looming ever closer, I gave in to despair and made an offhand comment along the lines of: "it's never going to be enough for you." He was offended, rightly so, and countered, "you have made it perfectly clear you don't care about our finances."

Somehow, I managed to refrain from defending myself, pointing out all the sacrifices I was making and all the effort I had put into "his" vision, the pain it caused me to turn away from homeless people on the street and the tears I cried every time the collection basket went past me at Church. But I was preparing to scrap the whole experiment and start hiding money from him and giving it away behind his back. The only reason I didn't is that I had none to give, it being December and all.

Yet within two weeks, he wrote me an email to say he'd been spending a lot of time pondering the situation, and suggested that any remaining money at the end of the month could be split, 50/50, into savings and charity. I can't express to you my surprise and delight, or how unexpected his gesture truly was. There was no lead up to his sudden acceptance of my desires and subsequent factoring in of them to the family plan.

Nor was it anything I did, or anything I said, to change his mind. In the past, we had argued about this endlessly without coming to any satisfactory conclusion: I confidently asserted that we would be blessed if we gave from our hearts, he said we had no money to waste. I explained my beliefs about stewardship and responsibility to those less fortunate, he said we could help them when we weren't struggling to pay our own bills. Yet even though nothing in our money situation changed, even though we aren't yet at the point where we have 6 months income in a savings account for emergencies and even with the house in need of immediate repairs, he just decided that we could do this and then came up with a plan to make it work. I can only deduce it was the hand of God working in him. And therein lies the miracle.

It's not the plan I would have chosen, of course. It's actually better because it fulfills BOTH our interests. And because my husband came up with it himself, I feel like it's a gift he's given me, rather than a battle I've won at the expense of his pride.

So we have a charity account now! And I have direct incentive to refrain from spending frivolously; if I am under budget each month, some of that money will go to help the poor. It just makes it so much easier to brave the crowds at Costco knowing that there's a larger purpose to my sacrifices. And for the first time, I feel my husband and are are truly united in our marriage and our finances. We are working together towards each of our goals. This is so much better than a windfall of money (though if God has one planned I won't turn it down!)

I am thrilled and filled with new hope. I truly consider this a miracle, and I am wholly thankful for it.

Picture credit.