It’s hard being Catholic these days. The enemy continues to push, pull, and agitate, taking our minds off what is true and offering wonderful things only the world provides. It reminds us of Jesus in the wilderness; He was tempted while fasting for forty days and forty nights.
A season ago I was in the deepest prayer of my life. I wanted to do what Jesus did. I wanted to be like Christ. I had visions of sugar plums as multiple thousands were healed, restored, fed, filled – I just didn’t want the crucifixion part. I prayed, “Lord, I want to do what You did!”
It was a marvelous prayer, worthy of writing and handing out to children to memorize. Then I heard the Voice. It wasn’t loud, but it was quite distinct, and I knew it did not emanate from my own consciousness.
“Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights.”
Maybe I was in shock. I don’t remember coming back with anything worthy of writing down for others to memorize. “Jesus fasted.”
The reality of the desert
In Saint Matthew’s description of the forty-day fast of the Lord, the Gospel says that He was hungry. He was so hungry that the tempter tried getting Him to eat a rock after turning it into bread. But the Scripture says Jesus fought the enemy: “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). Jesus was able to overcome the wiles of the enemy by using the Word of God.
I wanted to be like Jesus. This Voice in my head reminded me that Jesus fasted for forty days. It was not a supernatural fast such as Moses and Elijah experienced. They neither ate nor drank for forty days. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus was hungry after not eating for forty days. So, on March 25th I stopped eating. I drank tap water only, until May 4th.
What were the results? A lot of people asked that along the way. In my prayer, after I put food in my mouth forty days later, I had the inner understanding that God was not impressed by my austerity. There is nothing any human can do to make God “happy”, other than to live in faith, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30; cf. Hebrews 11:6).
Refraining from eating for forty day does not change one’s relationship with God. However, it does open one up to the wiles of the tempter, which brings me back to the subject of this essay.
Fighting for the Church
The Church is under attack by the enemy as are her individual members. No one is exempt. No one. People who do not suffer temptation and trials are in funeral homes. It is only the grace of God that keeps us strong. 1 Corinthians 10:13 assures us: “No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.”
Think of a time when being Catholic meant knowing without reservation that bread and wine was transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. It may have included daily devotions to the Blessed Mother or patron saint, the Rosary. It meant following the seasons of Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, and Ordinary Time. There was time for examination of conscience and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
It doesn’t seem so simple these days. But this is just me, and I apologize to those who think I’ve got a few screws loose. My goal is to live and move and have my being in the true Church, hidden within the multifaceted desires and goals of persons who seem to be trying to force the Church to change with the world.
Every day I hear, or read, “If the Church only….” “If the Pope would….” “If the Bishops did….” The implication is that then everything would be fine: the pews would be filled, the parishes would expand, people would be converted. How easy it is to look outwards to find the source of why things aren’t going the way one thinks they should. Maybe now is the time to look again to the saints, who point us to Christ and His Word.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, recently issued an Apostolic Letter, Aperuit illis, in which he establishes that “the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time is to be devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the Word of God.” (n. 3) He wrote that the Word of God “has the power to open our eyes and to enable us to renounce a stifling and barren individualism and instead to embark on a new path of sharing and solidarity.” (n. 13) He also stated that the Bible is “the book of the Lord’s people, who, in listening to it, move from dispersion and division towards unity.” (n. 4, italics added)
In the coming liturgical and calendar year, the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Sunday of the Word of God, falls on January 26th. Let us join together in prayer for the Lord’s people to move from dispersion and division and the stifling and barren individualism that cripples the Church today, to embark on a new path of sharing, solidarity, and unity through the Word of God.
“It is fitting,” wrote Pope Francis, “that the life of our people be constantly marked by this decisive relationship with the living word that the Lord never tires of speaking to his Bride, that she may grow in love and faithful witness.” (n. 2)