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!


Anonymous said...

Be very careful with Medjugorje. Don't be too surprised if the Vatican comes out explicitly against the alleged visionaries in the not-too-distant future. Their disobedience to the bishops is a strong indication that they are not authentic. Just be careful. One does not need Medjugorje to have a strong and devout faith nor a true devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Until the Church approves these visionaries I think extreme caution is warranted.

Tienne said...

Michael: I'm sure we can agree that whatever the Vatican decides regarding Medjugorje, the fruits of increased prayer and fasting can only be of benefit to the Church.

Jessica said...

Hi Tienne - I'm sorry, but I can't find your email address anywhere. Would you mind emailing me about your entry to the Lenten blog carnival? Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I certainly agree regarding the benefits of prayer and fasting, I'm just suggesting staying away from Medjugorje and the alleged visionaries until the Vatican makes a decision. We don't need Medjugorje to tell us of the benefits of prayer and fasting. Our Holy Father reminds of that just fine, and the approved apparitions have no less powerful a message than what we see coming from Medjugorje, only they have none of the disobedience and controversy surrounding them.