Over the last 90 days (ending on Easter) I have been undertaking the Exodus 90 disciplines for the second year. My brother and our friend Ronnie also did it this year. We had a larger group last year, and we met up more frequently. This year it was only us and we did not meet up at all, except for some family hangouts on Sundays.
During Exodus 90 I read a few books on my kindle relating to the alleged visions at Medjugorje, as well as listening to an audible book about the Fatima apparitions. I have also been working intensely on praying the Rosary, and writing down thoughts on how to teach our kids how to say the Rosary.
Finally, I have been fasting in reparation for my sins and the sins of others.
Just as importantly, I have been working in family practice, which brings me face to face with humanity in all its beauty, frailty, joy, stupidity and evil on a daily basis. I will be talking diet and exercise strategies with a 50-year-old pastor one minute, and trying to convince a sixteen-year-old boy that he should not kill himself in the very next appointment. It is a frontline posting in the spiritual war that we are all born into whether we like it or not. Many times over the last few weeks I have remembered the saying of Jesus: “This kind can only be cast out by prayer and fasting.”
I have learned several things from the experience, probably the most important of which is that I really have a very shallow and superficial relationship with Jesus and with His mother. Being the kind of person who likes to read and think and approach things through the mind, I have been reading and listening to audible books about Mary in the Scriptures, and about Our Lady of Guadalupe. As I said, I have been trying to pray the Rosary, more frequently and fervently.
But I have also come to have a greater appreciation for the importance of the home and family life Kathleen and I are trying to build here. We had some family over for Easter dinner and one of them paid us the compliment of saying we had a “very peaceful home.” There are some who think that is an extra, a privilege, or even an unfair advantage over the thousands, or even millions, who do not have the ability to live in peace and emotional security like our children do. I myself am prone to that thought, to feeling guilty at how well off we are when so many other people are less fortunate.
A few nights ago, it was probably a Thursday or Friday night based on how tired Kathleen and I were, we were trying to put the girls to bed, and they were having none of it. They still had tons of energy. It took an hour to get them even to want to lie still enough to snuggle. Then Ellie was in a clingy mood, and didn’t want to be put in her crib while she was still awake. Time was dragging on, and it was pushing closer and closer to 9:00, with laundry and work preparations still remaining to be done, and the knowledge weighed on me that we would probably be up with a snotty baby at least once, and that the jolt of the alarm was creeping inexorably closer and closer. I impatiently wondered why Ellie needed to be held right then. Why couldn’t she just go to sleep in her crib by herself?
For a brief second a picture flashed into my brain that I had seen on a news story or a facebook blurb or something like that. It was a picture of a little boy, probably two or three years old, who had been brought to a refugee hospital in Aleppo at the height of the civil war. I have seen the “thousand yard stare” many times in my life. I’ve probably worn it at least a couple times. But this picture was the first time I had ever seen it on a child’s face. It was a face that was worn, haggard, with huge eyes, completely catatonic, staring vacantly into nowhere.
I realized that holding our children when they need to be held is not an imposition, or an interruption. It is our most serious business, our most critical mission. Nor is it a privilege, or an unfair advantage for children to grow up valued, loved or emotionally secure, or to be read to at an early age. It is not a privilege, it is their birthright, as it is the birthright of every child ever born, to have a mother and a father who love them, and who model for them what real love is. The tragedy is not that some children get to enjoy a measure of this, but that many children do not.
I saw a little patient today, a sweet little boy with severe developmental delays and physical disabilities. His grandmother remarked in passing that we, the medical providers, had held him longer in the short office visit than his father had in his entire life.
I may not be able to love all the children of the world, but I can certainly love my own. I can offer everything I do from the moment the alarm goes off until the moment my eyes close (for the first time) at night as a sacrifice, as an act of charity and obedience, for all the other children that I cannot reach.
Right now it is Easter week. I am not sure how official it is, but I have been taught to think of Easter week as one long intentional celebration of the Resurrection. That means no fasting or abstaining. Instead, I plan on making pumpernickel bread and having bacon sandwiches on Friday this week, in gratitude for the glorious gift of bacon. This looks forward to the life of the world to come when God will “wipe away every tear from every eye.” It recalls that Jesus has risen, He is truly alive, and that He is with us always even to the end of the world. As He Himself said, “No one can fast when the Bridegroom is present.”
But He also followed that up with, “But someday the bridegroom will be taken from them, and then they will fast.” (Matthew 9:15.)
We exist in the already and the not yet. So for one week out of the year, the week of Easter, we do not fast in celebration of the resurrection. But next week, Adam and Ronnie and I will take up fasting again. We will certainly not be doing all the Exodus 90 disciplines (cold showers are out!) But we all agreed that fasting seemed both the most essential and the most rewarding and we will be maintaining that to some varying extent.
Fasting is not a mental exercise, a spiritual workout. It is not about mind-over-matter or developing “self-discipline,” although it does those things. Fasting is an act of preparation for the Eucharist, first and foremost. It is a way of meditating with our body on “Every word that comes forth from the Mouth of God,” which is the “Word become Flesh, and dwelling among us,” “the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
Secondly, fasting is an act of spiritual warfare. It is a defensive action that strengthens us against temptation. It is also an offensive action which, when offered for another, or offered directly to Jesus in union with His own salvific suffering (Colossians 1:24), is a fast acceptable to the Lord, able “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke.”
Pray, do penance, go to confession, Celebrate the Eucharist, Love your Family. You will be helping to save the world.