Thursday, June 21, 2012

Prayer, fasting and mercy

There are three things, my brethren, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.

Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God's ear to yourself.

- Saint Peter Chrysologus

By adding works of mercy and fasting (i.e. penance) to the list of teaching, evangelizing and communicating the Catholic Faith- those mininstries which serve the spiritual needs of people -we cannot but expect that the Culture of Life will take greater hold in our nation.

As it stands, however, those who have a monopoly on serving the needy (i.e. the State and secularists) have little use for the Gospel or saving souls. Perhaps socialistic programs advanced by political demagogues and by misguided Catholics within the Church will have less credibility in the eyes of the people if more orthodox Catholics would not only share their fortunes with charitable organizations (which they do) but their time as well.

Everyone now and then we have to ask ourselves: "When is the last time I visited a nursing home, a soup kitchen, an organization that serves the mentally disabled or even an orphanage?" For the early Christians, these kind of services were so intertwined with preaching the Word, that when the Word was spoken, pagans listened. Indeed, because their love of Christ appealed to the whole person- body and soul -Christianity was well on its way to becoming the greatest civilization to have ever existed.

And as for fasting and doing penance for others, this ancient spiritual exercise is a means of detaching ourselves from the illusion that the world is our permanent home. It helps us to fix our eyes on heaven; something to really and truly look forward to. Furthermore, through these acts of self-denial, we can make up what is lacking in others; namely, a willingness to accept everything from God's hands, including the adversity he may send us for our own good. As St. Paul said to the Corinthians, "So death is at work in us, but life in you...If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation." (II Corinthians 4:12, 1:6)

A priest once marveled that St. John Vianney, a simple parish priest himself, was attracting so many souls to the confessional the booth each week. St. John asked this priest if he had done any penance for sinners. The priest answered in the negative. St. John Vianney then said, "Don't expect much then."

And as St. Chrysologus said, prayer, fasting and mercy cannot be separated. This combination is the key to saving souls.