Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As we prepare ourselves to begin once again the season of Lent, I want to assure you of my thoughts and prayers for a holy and devout Lenten season.
If you are like most people, you have and may still be experiencing degrees of chaos, confusion and bewilderment as we continue to navigate these times of pandemic, political unrest and global challenges. I would not be surprised that for many of us, the past months have been like riding on an emotional roller coaster that is taking its toll: suicide rates, depression and anxiety on the rise, divisions and separations in families and communities, isolation and despair, distrust of civic and religious leaders; these are hallmarks of our times. That is why we need the anchor of Christian hope, who is Jesus, to keep our lives from unraveling and falling apart, as is sadly the case for many in our world today.
In light of this, would not Lent 2021 be a great time to reset ourselves spiritually, to center ourselves in God and to draw ever closer to him in prayer and fasting? I think so and so I would like to propose that we all consider this Lent as a gift, an opportunity to do just that.
In Lent, the Church invites us to more intense prayer, especially but not limited to the Mass, Adoration, the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross, but also mental or silent prayer. Prayer is the life blood of our souls. The Church also asks us to practice certain mortifications by abstinence and fasting, to deny ourselves certain foods or experiences that many of us have grown very fond of and miss intensely when they are taken away. How sad that many of us are so controlled by our bodily and emotional appetites! These mortifications are not always easy, but if practiced for the right reasons, they help us focus on God and less on ourselves and this passing world.
Prayer and fasting connects us to God, who as Father, Son and Holy Spirit made a dwelling with us in our souls on the day of our baptism. This marvelous and incredible baptismal life helps us to remember that God is here with us. When we pray and fast, we are building and strengthening our all-important interior life that in turn helps us to live in this passing world, with its many challenges, trials and tribulations, but also its many joys, albeit temporary, with a balance of living that is sadly missing in too many people’s lives today.
For this reason and because in recent years I have become more convinced than ever that we as Catholics need to rediscover the power of fasting, not just on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday, but throughout our lives, I want to invite anyone who can and is willing to join me this Lent in fasting on ALL the Friday’s of Lent.
Bodily fasting, as you recall in our tradition is limiting oneself to only one balanced meal a day and two much lighter meals and not indulging in food between meals or drinking alcoholic beverages. I am therefore encouraging this voluntary addition to Lent 2021 only for those whose health permits it and not for the very young. Fasting can also include denying ourselves the use of technology or limiting or avoiding social media. Many are controlled by cell phones, the computer or social media. I might suggest we also fast in this regard on Lenten Fridays in order to free ourselves from this tyranny.
Why do I make this sincere request? I make it simply because Jesus often fasted and prayed. He also said that some demons can only be expelled by fasting and prayer, thereby indicating its power over evil spirits, temptation and sin. Fasting is so much a part of our religious tradition. ALL the great saints and mystics practiced rigorous fasting. In them, it brought about many graces which they would not have had otherwise. It will do the same for you and me. I believe it will strengthen us for the battles that lay ahead, a battle against the Devil and his cunning temptations, the battle for purity and innocence, the battle for life, for the family, for all that is good, true, and beautiful in God’s eyes.
I will be personally offering up my fasting on these Lenten Fridays in reparation for my sins and the sins of abusive bishops and priests, for the intentions of those who have left the faith and no longer join us for the Mass so that they will find their way home, for a speedy end to the pandemic, for the healing of the divisions in our country, for the implementation of our diocesan plan to become fully alive as missionary disciples, that the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary will reign over us with loving grace and that in this Year of St. Joseph, the men of our diocese will strive to imitate this just and chosen man. Will you join me? I sincerely hope so. You need tell no one of this, for God is the only one who will know of your added Lenten observance. Let it be between you and God.
There is no recorded testimony that I know of, that Mary and Joseph fasted, but we can be confident that they did. Jesus would have learned from and imitated their piety and since fasting was a great part of the Jewish religious tradition, it is almost for certain that the Holy Family practiced it as well. I pray that St. Joseph, the model of the interior life will be our inspiration as we embrace more than ever this much needed spiritual practice and that like St. Joseph, our interior lives will be renewed as a result. St. Joseph, the patron and protector of the Church, the model of the interior life, the guardian of those who follow Jesus, PRAY FOR US!
+The Most Reverend Carl A. Kemme
Bishop of Wichita