Religious Freedom — Why and How to Fast — A Family Guide

"Christ in the Desert" by Ivan Kramskoy

Have you heard?

March 30th has been designated by many of our bishops to be as a day of fasting and prayer for religious freedom and conscience protection.

“Most importantly of all, we call upon the Catholic faithful, and all people of faith, throughout our country to join us in prayer and penance for our leaders and for the complete protection of our First Freedom — religious liberty — which is not only protected in the laws and customs of our great nation, but rooted in the teachings of our great Tradition. Prayer is the ultimate source of our strength—for without God, we can do nothing; but with God, all things are possible.” (USCCB) [1]

If you are reading this after the fact, you can still designate your own day of fasting and prayer for this purpose.  If you‘re reading this before the date there’s still time to join in prayer with everybody else.  Why though, you ask?  Why spend the time fasting and how?

Why Fast?

The first reason to fast is because that is what God’s people have historically done before a decision, grave situation or problem before them. In the Old Testament, Queen Esther fasted before approaching her husband, the king, when she was going to reveal that Haman, the king’s advisor, had plans to annihilate the Jewish people. She said, “Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I must die.” (Esther 4:16)

After Esther and the Jewish people fasted for three days, Esther approached her king, was received well, and revealed the evil plot of Haman, securing life for her people.  Other ancient people of faith also fasted- Moses, the prophetess Anna (Luke 2:36) and Daniel (Daniel 9:3) fasted, to name just a few.  Holy people in the Old Testament knew the value of fasting.

Second, Jesus fasted. Matthew 4:1-2 tells us that before his public ministry Jesus went in to the desert: “…Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights.”

Third, when we fast, we eliminate attachments to food and open ourselves up spiritually to God. We empty ourselves of our desires for material things and become more open to hearing, obeying and loving God. We are also making reparation for sin and doing penance.

How to Fast

Fasting can be absolute or partial, meaning fasting on water alone, or juices and water, or bread and water, or simply from ‘extras’ like desserts, meat and wine, or taking one regular meal and two smaller ones.   I once heard someone suggest that the time one normally spends eating on a fasting day, he replaces with prayer- the Rosary, Mass, or personal scriptural mediation. This makes a lot of sense to me.

Jesus gave us guidelines for fasting as well. “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:16-18)

How to Explain Fasting to Children

You know your child’s maturity level and understanding. You can simply share biblical references of fasting and say that you are fasting for our nation and freedom of religion, and for God’s protection over us as a country. Older children may be able to understand the exact political situation and you may want to explain that to them.  Or you may not. Pray about it and discern the best path.

Should My Children Fast?

Children’s prayers are powerful and children should be encouraged to make a small fast of their own- perhaps of sweets or a favorite snack. Children’s bodies are different than adults and they have increased nutritional needs so the Church doesn’t require young children to fast like adults do even on Good Friday or Ash Wednesday. In fact, it is probably unwise for them to do so. Young children are often more willing to sacrifice a lot, and parents should be encouraged to guide them wisely, perhaps suggesting a fast from dessert and or meat, something that will not negatively affect their health. All children can be encouraged to fast from a favorite game or television program in lieu of substantial food.

Catholics, indeed people of all faith, are at a critical juncture in history. Our religious freedom is being threatened by secular government and like the faith filled people of the Old and New Testaments, we must humble ourselves and pray, and fast.

Second Chronicles 7:14 states, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Amen.


Footnote:

[1] http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/march-14-statement-on-religious-freedom-and-hhs-mandate.cfm

Theresa Thomas is the co-author Stories for the Homeschool Heart (Bezalel Books, 2010 & winner of About.com Best Catholic Book of 2010), family columnist at Today’s Catholic News and a contributing writer for the Integrated Catholic Life™.


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