MARIAN PRAYER GROUP

 

Sacred Scripture,

Our Lord Jesus Christ and Our Lady of Emmitsburg,

St. Francis de Sales, Pope John Paul II,

Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val,

and Fr. Stephano Gobbi—

 

All teach us about

FASTING!

(Compiled by Michael T. Sullivan, MD)

 

As we move through Lent this year, let us ponder Our Lord’s words to Gianna Talone Sullivan in one of the early Lessons on December 13, 1988, even before Our Lady began appearing to her daily, when  Our Lord said:

 

“This is not a game.  This is true, for I am Truth, and this is serious!…I fasted for My people….When you fast you are cleansed with My Holiness….I ask you today to fast in order to purify and cleanse yourself, for My Mother is coming!”  (JOM, Dec. 13, 1988)

 

In her April 13, 2008 private message, Our Lady of Emmitsburg said to the world:

 

“God has the most opportune moment, and He knows what to do and when to do it….When people give their free will to God, then He knows when the most opportune moment will be.” (OLOE, April 13, 2008)

 

This was not a public message to the world for the internet.  This was a private message at home and to be shared with the “choir.” And are we not the “choir” by the very fact that we are even here reading and are interested in this?  What are we missing that might delay this most opportune moment of God and Our Lady? To what are we still so attached and from which we need to fast?

 

The Catholic Online Dictionary defines “fasting” as a form of penance that imposes limits on the kind or quantity of food or drink one consumes, a traditional precept in the Church from the first century of Christianity.

 

However, in the Old Testament Books of Nehemiah (9:1), Tobit (2:3 & 12:8), and Judith (4:9-11), fasting is mentioned as part of the religious ritual of the chosen people, the Israelites, who so often had broken their Covenant with Yahweh, suffered the consequences, and were then pleading again for His Mercy.

 

Over 1000 years before Christ, after having been falsely accused of serious crimes, King David wrote in Psalm 35:

 

“But I, when they were troublesome to me, was clothed with sackcloth.  I humbled my soul with fasting, and poured forth prayers within my bosom.”  (Ps. 35:13), and the Lord preserved him from danger.

 

Around 475 years before Christ, there lived Queen Esther whose Jewish ancestry had been kept hidden from her Persian husband, King Ahasuerus.  In the Book of Esther we read:

 

“Among all the captive Jews in all provinces, towns, and places, to which the king’s cruel edict (of total destruction of the Jewish race) had been revealed, there was great mourning, with fasting, wailing and weeping, many using sackcloth and ashes for their bed.”  (Esther 4:3)

 

Then Queen Esther, after covering her head with dirt and ashes and severely afflicting her body, pleaded with the Lord to save her people. Risking her own life, she revealed her secret Jewish nationality to her Persian King and exposed the evil plot to have the Jews killed.  Recognizing her courage, her love for her Jewish people, and her trust in her God, the King reversed the order, saving her Jewish people.

 

Some 400 years before Christ, the prophet Joel foresaw the coming of the Lord after witnessing the devastation to Israel following a terrible infestation of locusts:

 

“Blow the trumpet in Zion, sound the alarm on my holy mountain!  Let all who dwell in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming!  Yes, it is near, a day of darkness and of gloom, a day of clouds and somberness!...For great is the day of the Lord, and exceedingly terrible; who can bear it?  Yet, even now says the Lord:  ‘Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping and mourning.’”(Joel 2:1-2 & 11-12)

 

Around the year 170 BC, recorded in the Second Book of Maccabees, Israel was again at risk of being invaded by Syria: 

 

“When Judas (Maccabees) heard this, he urged the people to call upon the Lord night and day to help them….When they had all done this together, and had craved mercy of the Lord with weeping and fasting, lying prostrate on the ground for three days continually, Judas exhorted them to make themselves ready….Giving his men the battle cry ‘God’s Victory,’ he made a (surprise) night attack on the king’s pavilion....Finally, they withdrew in triumph, having filled the camp with terror and confusion.  Day was just breaking when this was accomplished with the help and protection of the Lord.”    (2 Maccabees:13)

 

 

Later this year, on June 24th , we celebrate the Feast of the Birth of John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets.

 

“It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:  “A voice crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the Way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’” (Is 40:3) 

 

The Baptist wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist.  His food was locusts and wild honey, and his message was, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  It was this ascetic lifestyle of John the Baptist that readied him to “prepare” the Way of the Lord.  (Mt. 3: 1-4)

 

It was not long after John’s appearance on the scene that Our Lord too began His final preparations for his public ministry and His mission, the salvation of humanity.  In Matthew’s Gospel we read:

 

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.  He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry.” (Mt 4:2)

 

There He was tempted with food and power and was tested by the devil, but He resisted all temptation. Then Jesus Himself ordered: 

 

“‘Get away Satan.  It is written:  ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and Him alone shall you serve.’ (Dt 6:13)  Then the devil left him and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.”  (Mt: 4: 1-2, 10-11)

 

In Mark’s Gospel we read about the time when the disciples’ failure to effect a cure in a boy possessed by a demon seemed to reflect unfavorably on Jesus.  Jesus, however, did then cast the demon out, took the boy by the hand, and raised him up.  “When He entered the house, his disciples asked him in private, ‘Why could we not drive it out?’  Jesus answered:

 

“This kind can only come out through prayer and fasting.”  (Mk 9: 28-29)

 

In the early 17th century, Doctor of the Church St. Francis de Sales, author of the classic “Introduction to the Devout Life,” wrote this about fasting:

 

“Understand that of itself fasting is not a virtue….Thus, it happens that it profits some and not others, because it is not undertaken by all in the same manner…. Now among the conditions required for fasting well, I will select 3 principal ones:

 

First: We must fast with our whole heart….Second, We must never fast through vanity, but always through humility…. Third:  Fasting well is to look to God and to do everything to please Him.”

 

In Matthew’s Gospel Our Lord warns:

 

 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.  I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, Who is unseen; and your Father, Who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Mt. 6:16-18)

 

Throughout the apparitions to the six visionaries in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia, which began on June 24, 1981, on the feast of St. John the Baptist, fasting has been a frequent theme.  Our Lady told them early on that:

 

“Through fasting and prayer, one can stop wars, one can suspend the laws of nature.”  (July 21, 1982)   “Today I ask you to start fasting from your heart.  There are many people who fast, but only because everyone else is fasting….I ask this parish to fast out of gratitude to God for allowing me to remain so long in this parish.” (Our Lady of Medjugorje., Sept. 20, 1984)

 

Throughout his papacy, John Paul II also spoke about the value of fasting:

 

“Fasting helps us to understand better the difficulties and sufferings of so many of our brothers and sisters who are oppressed by hunger, severe poverty and war.”  (Angelus, JPII, March 2, 2003)  “Joined to the practice should be a sincere desire for inner purification, readiness to obey the Divine Will and thoughtful solidarity….with the poor.” (Gen. Audience, JPII, Mar. 5, 2003)

 

In that same previously quoted Lesson back in Dec. 1988, Our Lord went on to explain His call for fasting:

 

“Blessed are those who fast because of their love for Me and for the salvation of others!  I am not calling you to fast for long periods of time—simply once or twice a week.  Is this asking too much of you?  The purest form of fasting is on bread and water, but as you are aware, there are other ways of fasting for those who cannot do the former.”  (JOM, Vol 1, #16, Dec 13, 1988)

 

What are some of those other ways?  There are obvious physical forms of fasting from other food and drink, from convenience and pleasures, and from entertainment and luxury; but there are also many more subtle desires for which fasting could be quite valuable.  Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val in the early 20th century wrote the Litany of Humility.  In this litany we pray to be delivered from the desire of being esteemed, of being loved, of being honored and praised, from the desire of being preferred to others and of being consulted and approved—all powerful forms of fasting. 

 

Through Fr. Stefano Gobbi, founder of the Marian Movement of Priests, Our Lady has spoken about fasting on several occasions between 1973-1997:

 

“I am asking of you a bodily fast as a means of mortifying your senses,…a spiritual fast from every form of evil,…a fast of the heart, closing it to inordinate attachments,…and a fast of the soul, by keeping it far from sin, even the least of sin.” (MMP, #306, March 16, 1985)

 

Over a period of almost 20 years, Our Lady of Emmitsburg has been sharing that same message of prayer, fasting, conversion of heart and peace: 

 

“Peace can exist through prayer and love, but it is necessary that you respond in action….Respond to my call of Love and Mercy through unity, prayer, penance and fasting, all of which are important factors which can ward off wars and soften chastisements.” (OLOE, 8-04-94)  “Unless prayer, penance and fasting are done in reparation for the many outrages against my Son’s Most Sacred Heart, this world will suffer tremendously from its lack of gratitude, its pompous righteousness, and its lack of mercy.”  (OLOE, June 12, 1997) 

 

It would seem to many that our world has lost all sense of sin.  We are bombarded 24 hours a day with all sorts of distractions and temptations to take us away from the Truth and to disrupt our relationship with God.  Our Lady of Emmitsburg goes on to say: 

 

“Inclinations of the flesh and human nature will attempt to fight the inspirations of the Spirit.  You can control and temper all the sentiments of your flesh through silence, love, prayer and fasting.” (OLOE, Apr. 30, 1998)

 

Perhaps many of us did pay much more attention to this call to fasting in the early and mid-90’s; but with time, many of us may have also drifted away from this practice.  What seems so amazing is to reread that which many of us had previously read many years ago but forgotten, that being when Our Lord in His Lessons to the world said “…Fast in order to purify and cleanse yourself, for My Mother is coming!”  The Son of God, the Son of Mary, was asking a group of young adults in Scottsdale, Arizona, at the very beginning of their spiritual journey, to fast as He promised His Mother was coming to them!

 

If that promise warranted fasting, now recall what Our Lady of Emmitsburg has promised here at the Center of her Immaculate Heart over the last 18 years:

 

1.      “This place (the Emmitsburg area) is the haven of life because it is the Center of my Immaculate Heart where all children seek refuge.  It will withstand the attacks from evil because I am here with my Child Jesus.” (OLOE, Mar. 9, 1995). “This refuge of my Immaculate Heart is for all people, but the Center of My Immaculate Heart can only be a place where the community reflects the purity, joy, love and mercy of Jesus.” (OLOE, Apr. 6, 2000)

2.      “This is the place….where my Son’s Divine Mercy will be unveiled.  In the Name of the Child Jesus, I place the seal of protection against evil upon your soul, sanctified by grace for my Son’s glorious reign.” (OLOE, Oct 21, 1999) “It is the unveiling of God’s Mercy which will lift this world out of its misery.”  (OLOE, Mar. 2, 2000)

3.      “Jesus will come a second time and reign…His Kingdom shall be an Era of Peace and Hope, and it will be a spiritual quenching for your parched souls….He will not walk on the world as you know it.  He will be your heavenly delight as you walk in harmony and unity and peace toward the Way of His Truth.…It will not be His final judgment and coming, for this next era will be the Covenant of our Two Hearts, a spiritual Eucharistic Reign where the Child Jesus will usher in a kingdom of Peace….for it is the Child Jesus who represents hope and life for all children of the world.” (OLOE, March 2, 2000)

 

In May, 2000, Our Lady of Emmitsburg even made a profound link to the message and mission She had begun in Fatima :

 

4.      “I have been waiting for 2000 years to fulfill the plan God the Father has commissioned to me to bear the fruits of my Son’s redemption….What commenced in Fatima with my three little children will continue now and come to fruition here at the Center of my Immaculate Heart.”  (OLOE, May 11, 2000)

5.      And finally, Our Lady of Emmitburg has promised here so many times:  “I am not leaving!” (OLOE, Feb. 1, 2006)

 

It would seem that now in our world we have already seen many disasters and sit on the brink of numerous others, both natural and human, with great suffering, much confusion and even chaos—all of which threaten a major change in the way we live our lives, both here in America and throughout the world.  So if King David, the prophets Ezra, Tobit and Judith; if Queen Esther, Judas Maccabees, and the prophet Joel; and if John the Baptist (just to name a few) can all call on the chosen people, the Israelites, to pray and to fast in repentance, asking the Lord’s Mercy for their obstinacy and sinfulness; and if Our Lord Himself, Our Lady both in Emmitsburg and in Medjugorje and many other places throughout the world as well as through Fr. Stefano Gobbi; if St. Frances de Sales in his writings, Cardinal Merry del Val in his Litany for Humility, and Pope John Paul II in his words (as well as many others); yes, if all these point to the value and importance of fasting, should we not also, at this critical time in salvation history, give fasting the paramount place it deserves both for our own spiritual growth and for the salvation of the world?

 

So let us again invite the entire Heavenly Court, all the celestial choirs of Angels and all the Saints, to join us and Our Lady during this Lenten Season. Let us ask the Holy Spirit for the grace of fasting—to reinforce in our spiritual armamentarium the power of fasting—not just on the 7 mandated days each Lent, but as a lifestyle or at least as a regular part of our weekly prayer life.  For do not these promises from Our Lady—namely, the unveiling of God’s Divine Mercy here at the Center of her Immaculate Heart, the Eucharistic Reign of the Child Jesus, the Era of Peace, and the fruition of what has been promised at Fatima— (do not they) deserve not only our prayer, but especially our fasting? 

 

 

(Modified from Opening Remarks by Michael T. Sullivan, MD

Marian Prayer Group—June 1, 2008)