Fort Scott and Marion County participants connect via the internet
If there is one thing Americans relish, it’s their food: pizza, tacos, hamburgers and fries, not to mention the mountains of sweets that tempt them daily.
That makes it all the more difficult during Lent when most faithful Catholics are required to fast and abstain on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and abstain from meat on all Fridays of Lent.
A group of about 30 men from several states – the Men of St. Michael – forego gastronomical gratification on Fridays year-round and other days of their choosing, in addition to the days mandated by the church.
Bryan Holt, a member of Mary Queen of Angels Parish in Fort Scott, said the idea of a group of men who would fast for spiritual reasons was suggested by Father Darrin May, who was pastor there from 2002 to 2012.
“He recommended it because of how good it was for the individual, but also for the Mystical Body of Christ,” Holt said last week.
He said he has long had an interest in building a community of men who assist each other spiritually, so he and a small group of men he associates with decided to follow their pastor’s advice.
The practice may be ancient but modern technology has made it easier.
“After a little while we started inviting other people to do it and started sending out emails as a reminder,” Holt said.
Several months later he was talking to one of the Men of St. Michael, a friend who lives in Texas, who recommended keeping a record of the group’s spiritual efforts and individual progress. The intent wasn’t to be a source of pride but to make the group’s efforts more concrete.
“We are certain that the sacrifices are being used by the Lord to help other people,” he said. “We don’t know how that works and we will never know until the end of time, or at the end of our lives, or however that works.”
He said in the last year he has been sending a recommended intention in his emails, although the individuals of the group may choose any intention they wish.
There are spiritual benefits to belonging to the group, he said.
One of the original members of the Men of St. Michael died after Christmas unexpectedly. “As a memorial to him I have been asking members to fast for the repose of his soul,” Holt said. “To me it gives our group more meaning.”
The tally of how many hours the men fast helps Holt understand better how the mystical body of Christ is working. About half of the members of the group remember to email the number of hours they fasted to Holt. Since he began keeping track in 2013, the group has reported 51,000 hours.
“God can do a lot with just one hour,” he said.
In 2012, when Father May was assigned to Holy Family Parish, made up of the faithful in Florence, Marion, Pilsen, and Tampa, he didn’t leave his zeal for fasting in Fort Scott.
That resulted in the formation of an organized parish fasting effort, Hungry for Christ, coordinated by Denice Bina of Marion.
“It is basically a support group, we support each other in offering our prayers through fasting for intentions of the parish – and just all kinds of intentions,” she said last week.
Some may find fasting difficult, Bina said, but the practice is mentioned in the Bible as a method for spiritual improvement over 70 times.
“One of my daughters actually challenged the women in our family to take turns through the month on a Friday to fast for our family. So, that’s how we started three or four years ago.”
When the parish decided to start the fasting support group, Bina said, she found more strength to fast.
“I don’t want to say fasting is rewarding – I don’t know if that’s the right term,” she said. “It is fulfilling. It deepens the prayer life…it makes it more meaningful.”
Our culture is one that focuses on instant gratification, she said.
“We hardly deny ourselves anything, let alone food. God’s grace pours into you when you offer that sacrifice to help you do it, to give you the strength to do it.”