Q: Archbishop J, why a special day of prayer and fasting during Lent?
Consider our world, our nation, your family, and your life. Are we living in perfect harmony with the Divine? If not, we need prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These three are the basic tools in the discipleship toolkit. They are the most important practices we need to cultivate as a habit.
All major religions have prayer and fasting as part of their religious practice. We live in a world of such excesses—in material possessions, food, pleasure, and stimulation. When the world veers to excesses, we need to regain balance through our religious practice and daily habits.
An Ecumenical Day of Prayer and Fasting
On Friday, April 8, the IRO has agreed to a Day of Prayer and Fasting for all religions in Trinidad and Tobago. This is one of the fruits of our synodal listening process. The day provides a graced moment for us to unite our hearts in prayer for our nation and the world.
We are in a very difficult time in our world, with a third world war looming. Nationally, we are in a difficult place as we see growing poverty, crime, and restlessness.
The Second Book of Chronicles 7:14 teaches us what to do when the nation and world are in urgent need of God’s intervention: “…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 I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Our day will have special significance since our brothers and sisters of the Muslim tradition are observing the holy month of Ramadan while we are in Lent. As a gesture of solidarity, if you have Muslim friends who are fasting, why not arrange to break the fast with them.
We both come from the Abrahamic tradition, and we share many things in common. Let us reach beyond what divides to what we share in common.
In Trinidad and Tobago, we have family members of every religion. Let us celebrate this by fasting together, encouraging them to do so within their tradition. On that day it would be nice to call others and express prayerful greetings. As friends and family, when you break the fast together, pray for unity in our land and in our world.
Hindu, Baha’i, Spiritual Baptist, Orisha, Muslim, Rastafarian, Christian: we all have spiritual practices of fasting and prayer. This National Day of Prayer and Fasting is meant to unite and assist us in finding a way to peace.
Fasting, our tradition
For us Catholics, Lent is a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We strive to do all three during this holy period. Many of us begin with a plan and quickly deviate from it as we get consumed with life.
This year, I am asking that we pray, fast, and give alms intentionally; that we choose a discipline in each of the three areas and commit to it during this season. Each one of the three is great on its own, but together the three are a powerhouse for conversion, intercession and deepening our relationship with God.
Speaking of the many forms of penance in the spiritual life, the Catholic Catechism 1434, says:
The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others. Alongside the radical purification brought about by Baptism or martyrdom they cite as means of obtaining forgiveness of sins: efforts at reconciliation with one’s neighbour, tears of repentance, concern for the salvation of one’s neighbour, the intercession of the saints, and the practice of charity “which covers a multitude of sins.”
St Augustine says: “Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s will, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the cloud of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust and kindles the true light of chastity.”
Says St Thomas Aquinas: “Fasting is directed to two things, the deletion of sin, and the raising of the mind to heavenly things.”
For St John Chrysostom, “Fasting of the body is food for the soul.”
Do not underestimate the spiritual opposition that comes when we fast (Gal 5:16–17). Remember Jesus was tempted in the desert. Satan sometimes intensifies the natural battle between body and spirit.
Practices on the Day of Fasting
I would like our churches open all day on April 8 and, where possible, with the Blessed Sacrament exposed. Those who can, please attend Mass. Visit the Blessed Sacrament to pray for the grace of conversion of hearts in our nation and the world. Those who can, do without food from the night before till the evening—drinking water only. If you need, add bread or, if you require a bit more, two very small portions of soup or sandwiches.
During the day, let us keep our mind and heart raised to God. Let us pray with the scripture and the Prayer of the Church. Remember, also, the Holy Rosary and Divine Mercy chaplet, and acts of penance.
We will identify parishes to facilitate communal prayer at different times during the day, so at any given time there will be prayer offered and raised to God like holy incense. Details will follow.
We are asking all our children to participate. Schools should have special activities to focus the day. An offering for the poor will be collected, either money or food for distribution, in all our schools and parishes. Let us be generous.
We are joining with our brothers and sisters of all faiths to pray, fast and give alms on April 8. Let us help each other to keep this day sacred.
Reach out to a Muslim friend or family and arrange with them to break the fast in the evening. Remember, we only eat fish on Fridays in Lent, but we can have a vegetarian meal.
2 Ch 7:14