The attack on marriage is really an attack on the human person, and his dignity, for the devil seeks to pervert our true purpose, to pervert God's holy design. For many of us, we cannot march in protests or write dozens of letters or call numerous times to urge legislators to vote for the Truth. But one thing we can all do is pray and fast. We have designated one day each week to fast for these intentions:

1. That marriage may be preserved, promoted, and understood as God's plan for creation.

2. For all marriages that they may reflect the love of the Trinity.

3. For broken marriages that Christ bring healing and conversion to the spouses' souls.

4. For those who are married, for the sanctification of their marriage and their spouse. For those who are single, for their future spouse and vocation.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

March 1st Fast

"Very quickly will there be an end of thee here; take heed therefore how it will be with thee in another world. To-day man is, and to-morrow he will be seen no more. . .  O the dulness and hardness of man's heart, which thinketh only of the present, and looketh not forward to the future. Thou oughtest in every deed and thought so to order thyself, as if thou wert to die this day. . . If to-day thou art not ready, how shalt thou be ready to-morrow? To-morrow is an uncertain day; and how knowest thou that thou shalt have a to-morrow?  What doth it profit to live long, when we amend so little? . . .Oh that we might spend a single day in this world as it ought to be spent! . . . Happy is the man who hath the hour of his death always before his eyes, and daily prepareth himself to die. . . .Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation. But alas! that thou spendest not well this time, wherein thou mightest lay up treasure which should profit thee everlastingly. The hour will come when thou shalt desire one day, yea, one hour, for amendment of life, and I know not whether thou shalt obtain."
(Imitation of Christ, Ch. XXIII, Thomas à Kempis
What a miserable state many live in because they do not have a transcendent view of life.  Whether people acknowledge it or not, most believe that this world is all there is, and so live accordingly.  How else could one explain the guiltless way so many practice sin, and constantly seek out pleasures that last only for a short time?  Sin has existed since The Fall, but never has it been without its accompanying shame until the present age when shame does not exist, because the grave offense and wounds it causes God are not acknowledged.

There is no thought of the four last things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. But, as Christians, we know that our Faith is not a lovely fantasy that we reminisce about in sentimental moments.  It is real and true, and so we must live our lives accordingly.  St. John Neumann said, providentially on the day of his death: "A man must be always ready, for death comes when and where God wills it." Our duty lies in gaining our salvation, and the salvation of those souls entrusted to us.  Do we spend each day profitably?  Do we remind ourselves that each of our actions and thoughts are seen by God, and judged accordingly?  How are we living out our vocations? If our vocations are our road to heaven, then they could also be our road to perdition if we do not live them well.  

Just as we acknowledge our own mortality, we should realize the mortality of our spouse and children as well.  This is not a morbid thought, but a realistic one.  Those who go through life denying the existence of death suffer the harsh consequences when it comes.  Rather, it is better to go through life treating ourselves, those we love, and those we are called to love as if we were sending them off to see God at any moment.  Will we send them in a spirit of love, or one of resentment?  Do we incumber others with tedious and trivial matters or are we lightening their burden, lifting their hearts to the things of heaven? How differently we would live if we could constantly keep this in mind!  Fasting today, and every Friday can only help us to understand that the joys of this world are nothing compared to those of the next.  It cultivates a physical and spiritual hunger inside of us to seek our eternal joy in heaven.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

February 22nd Fast

"You will begin most appropriately, and with hope of the greatest profit, to recall men to the observance of the holy law of fasting, if you teach the people this: penance for the Christian man is not satisfied by withdrawing from sin, by detesting a past life badly lived, or by the sacramental confession of these same sins. Rather, penance also demands that we satisfy divine justice with fasting, almsgiving, prayer, and other works of the spiritual life. Every wrongdoing--be it large or small--is fittingly punished, either by the penitent or by a vengeful God. . . Finally, those spurred on by penance do not seek escapes by which they might withdraw from fasting, nor do they seek various subtleties to break ecclesiastical law."
(Appetente Sacro, On the Spiritual Advantages of Fasting, Encyclical of Pope Clement XIII, 1759)
Perhaps the most difficult discipline in our Faith is that of fasting.  Especially in our culture, when every need is met so readily, every passion easily satiated, it can be quite arduous to form the vital practice of fasting.  The evil one convinces us that it is a medieval tradition; he points to Scripture passages which seem to say that God does not desire this penance.  Did not Christ himself say not to act like the Pharisees who go about performing public deeds?  Ah yes, but did not Christ also say,"do and observe all that they tell you"?  Did not Christ Himself begin His ministry by fasting in the desert?  In his Lenten Message of 2009, Pope Benedict XVI recalls the words of St. Basil, pointing to the fact that fasting was one of the original precepts:
"Fasting was ordained in Paradise.  The first injunction was delivered to Adam, 'Of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.' 'You shall not eat' is a law of fasting and abstinence. . . Fasting. . . strengthens strong men. . .  is the soul's safeguard, the body's trusty comrade, the armor of the champion, the training of the athlete."
We may say that we are not strong enough, that our situation in life does not allow for such extreme penances.  But then we risk being like those that Pope Clement speaks of, those who "seek escapes by which they may withdraw from fasting. . ."  Perhaps we think we are not made of the stuff of saints, but then we should rid ourselves of the corrupt stuff that we are made of, and fill it up with some saintly substance.  Blessed John Paul II, in a weekly General Audience he gave in 1979, said the following:
"Renunciation of sensations, stimuli, pleasures and even food or drink, is not an end in itself. It must only, so to speak, prepare the way for deeper contents by which the interior man "is nourished". This renunciation, this mortification must serve to create in man the conditions to be able to live the superior values, for which he, in his own way, hungers."
When we learn to renounce our will as relates to our sensual passions (with regards to eating, drinking, sleeping, visual stimulation, etc.), it becomes more easy to obey God's will and live a virtuous life.  In his Lenten message of 2009, the Pope consistently returns to this theme of conforming ourselves to God's will:
"[Christ] Himself sets the example, answering Satan, at the end of the forty days spent in the desert that 'man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God' (Mt 4,4). The true fast is thus directed to eating the 'true food,' which is to do the Father’s will (cf. Jn 4,34). If, therefore, Adam disobeyed the Lord’s command “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,” the believer, through fasting, intends to submit himself humbly to God, trusting in His goodness and mercy."
 During this season of Lent, and in particular on Fridays during Lent (and year-round), let us be mindful that Christ did not look to suffer less, but to suffer more.  He did not allow Himself to die at the pillar where He was scourged; he did not allow Himself to die fallen under the weight of the Cross; He did not allow Himself to die after he was first nailed.  No, he suffered His whole Passion, accepting each humiliation, each horrific blow, each torturous wound with a heart completely renounced to the will of the Father, and a heart completely in love with each of us.

Remember, each little renunciation of our will, is an act of love to God.  We can say truly with Christ,". . . [Father] not as I will, but as you will."  For just as each step towards Calvary was an act of  love, so too, each mortification, each denial of our own desires (sensual, physical, and emotional) is a step with Christ on the road of the Cross.  Let us slowly climb to the heights of Calvary, and so ascend to the heights of Love.

"If you are able to fast, you will do well to observe some days beyond what are ordered by the Church, for besides the ordinary effect of fasting in raising the mind, subduing the flesh, confirming goodness, and obtaining a heavenly reward, it is also a great matter to be able to control greediness, and to keep the sensual appetites and the whole body subject to the law of the Spirit; and although we may be able to do but little, the enemy nevertheless stands more in awe of those whom he knows can fast." (St. Francis deSales)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

February 15th Fast

"Faith in God, sustained by divine grace, is thus a very important element for living mutual dedication and conjugal fidelity. . . In saying this, there is no intention to affirm that fidelity and likewise the other properties are not possible in natural marriage, contracted between people who have not been baptized. Indeed, natural marriage does not lack the goods that “come from God the Creator and are included in a certain [rudimentary] way in the marital love that unites Christ with his Church” . . . Yet, closure to God or the rejection of the sacred dimension of the conjugal union and of its value in the order of grace certainly makes arduous the practical embodiment of the most lofty model of marriage conceived by the Church according to God’s plan and can even undermine the actual validity of the pact, should it be expressed . . . in a rejection of the principle of the conjugal obligation of fidelity itself, that is, of the other essential elements or properties of matrimony."
(Papal Address to the Roman Rota, January 26 2013)

Since the beginning of time marriage has existed as a natural institution, a foundational block for society.  The natural law argument for permanence and fidelity in marriage can convince many of the necessity of maintaining the traditional requirements for the institution.  As the Holy Father stated in his address:
"The indissoluble pact between a man and a woman does not, for the purposes of the sacrament, require of those engaged to be married, their personal faith. .  ."
And yet, as Christians we cannot ignore the difficulties that arise from ignoring the relationship between faith in God and fidelity in marriage.  The Pope points out even the linguistic relationship between these two words:
"We can take as a starting point the linguistic root that the Latin terms fides and foedus have in common. Foedus is a word with which the Code of Canon Law designates the natural reality of matrimony as an irrevocable covenant between a man and a woman (cf. can. 1055 § 1). Mutual entrustment is in fact the indispensable basis for any pact or covenant."
We would be remiss in our call to evangelize as Christians if we simply adhered to explaining and living the marital vocation as something that can be done naturally, without the divine aid of supernatural grace.  "Indeed, although the spousal bond is a natural reality, it has been raised by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized."  Abundant graces constantly flow from this sacramental union, and though success in marriage is possible without these graces, it makes it all the more difficult to persevere against adversity when they are not present.  Consequently, when personal faith is void, dissolubility is more easily accepted because one does not fully comprehend or believe in the vital importance of fidelity in a covenantal  relationship. Moreover, the salvation of the other does not rank higher than the gratification of oneself and so it is easier to dissolve the bond.

But where faith is present, there is a greater opportunity for growth and strengthening of the marital bond. Quoting St. Clement, the Pope says:
"For if the God of both is one, the Instructor — Christ — of both is also one, one Church, one wisdom, one modesty; their food is common, marriage an equal yoke.... And those whose life is common have common graces and a common salvation; common to them are love and training.”
There are natural and practical means to save and strengthen marriages, but faith in God must be promoted and advocated as a sure foundation to build the health of souls and spouses.
“He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

February 8th Fast

"The purpose of marriage is to help married people sanctify themselves and others. For this reason they receive a special grace in the sacrament which Jesus Christ instituted. Those who are called to the married state will, with the grace of God, find within their state everything they need to be holy, to identify themselves each day more with Jesus Christ, and to lead those with whom they live to God.
That is why I always look upon Christian homes with hope and affection, upon all the families which are the fruit of the Sacrament of Matrimony. They are a shining witness of the great divine mystery of Christ’s loving union with His Church which St. Paul calls sacramentum magnum, a great sacrament (Eph 5:32). We must strive so that these cells of Christianity may be born and may develop with a desire for holiness, conscious of the fact that the Sacrament of Initiation – Baptism – confers on all Christians a divine mission that each must fulfill in his own walk of life.”
(Saint Josemaría Escrivá )
 In the vocation to marriage (as with our simultaneous vocation to holiness), it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking,"if only I had more of such and such a virtue, I could be a much better spouse and parent." Well, why is it that we cannot acquire this virtue?  Why is it that we allow ourselves to despair of attaining perfection, and settle for mediocrity?  At the root of this problem is a distrust in God's grace.  We do not trust that He has given us sufficient grace to not only perform our daily tasks, but to do so with a generous and patient heart. 

When we lament our lack of virtue, we forget that God has already given us the necessary graces to become a saint in our vocation.  His graces abound in the life-giving waters of the Sacraments, but He cannot and will not force us to drink these waters.  His grace is there, but our free will must cooperate with it.  Patience, humility, generosity, self-sacrifice, fortitude, etc. can all be attained and practiced if we truly believe we have been given "within [our state of life] everything [we] need to be holy".  And when we embrace this call, we make firmer the foundations of our marriages, our families, and consequently, our society.