Twelve years ago this month, tragedy struck my family. My brother Brett, at the age of 27, died suddenly and unexpectedly in his sleep. In the months of sorrow that followed, each remaining member of our family grieved differently. Some were angry, others felt guilty, some needed to talk, and others kept silent. I was sick with worry for Brett’s soul. I needed to do something more than pray for him, something tangible; so I fasted. I prayed that the Lord would use my offering to shorten Brett’s stay in purgatory. I felt that, through fasting, I could somehow stay connected with Brett and he would continue to feel my love.
Throughout the last dozen years, I have continued to fast for Brett’s soul intermittently. A couple of years ago, during one of my fasting periods, I had a dream about Brett. He and I were standing, facing each other. He reached for me, hugged me, and mouthed the words “thank you.” Was this really a spiritually inspired moment? Maybe, maybe not, but I choose to believe it was. I haven’t looked at fasting the same way since. Our offerings and sacrifices do make a difference.
Lent is meant to be a joyful season. Jesus himself instructs us to look happy while fasting. “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites…but when you fast anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” (Mt. 6: 16-18) God knows what is in our hearts, and it is not a matter of what we are fasting from so much as why we choose to sacrifice. According to Fr. Gary Caster in his book The Little Way of Lent, “we choose to offer something as a way of expressing our love for Christ and our gratitude for his suffering and death.” When we unite our sacrifice with Jesus’ it can be so powerful!
During this Lenten season, consider fasting in addition to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Take some time to contemplate the reasons why we fast. Sacrifice with real purpose and conviction by consciously uniting your sufferings with Christ’s death on the cross. Offer up your sacrifices for your marriage, children, or other intention. Soon, you’ll know the joy and peace that comes from making a difference in someone’s soul! It is my prayer that you and your family have a wonderfully joyful Lent this year. Happy fasting!