Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
February 16, 2009
Benedict calls for a true Lenten fast
Fasting opens our hearts to God and our hands to the poor, he says
BY CINDY WOODEN
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
VATICAN CITY — Fasting from food and detaching oneself from material goods during Lent help believers open their hearts to God and open their hands to the poor, Pope Benedict said.
The Lenten fast helps Christians “mortify our egoism and open our hearts to love of God and neighbour,” said the pope in his message for Lent 2009. Lent begins Feb. 25.
Cardinal Paul Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Vatican’s office for promoting and coordinating charity, told reporters that Christian fasting brings together love for God and love for neighbour.
“The pope reminds us of our obligation to open our hearts and our hands to those in need,” he said at the Vatican presentation of the message.
A MORAL CALL
The Vatican invited Josette Sheeran, executive director of the UN’s World Food Program, to help present the papal message at its Feb. 3 press conference.
“Serving the hungry is a moral call that unites people of all faiths,” said Sheeran. Her organization relies heavily on Catholic and other faith-based organizations to distribute food aid.
“At this time of worldwide economic challenges, let us not forget that the food and financial crises hit the world’s most vulnerable the hardest,” she said. “Since 2007, 115 million were added to the ranks of the hungry to create a total of nearly one billion people without adequate food.”
Sheeran said that at a time when the U.S. and other governments are announcing multi-trillion-dollar packages to bailout banks, car companies and other industries, the World Food Program is asking that 0.7 per cent of all stimulus plans be dedicated to hunger relief.
“Financial rescue packages must serve not only Wall Street and Main Street, but also the places with no streets,” she said.
THE POOR HURT FIRST
Cordes and Sheeran agreed that the financial bailout plans are necessary not just for helping the world’s richest nations, but also for preventing a worsening situation in poor countries dependent on exports, on development aid and on the money their citizens working abroad send home to support their families.
“If the financial system fails completely, it will hurt the poor first,” Cordes said.
In his message, Pope Benedict said the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are meant to help Christians focus on God and prepare for the Easter celebration of Jesus’ victory over sin and death.
Focusing his message specifically on the practice of fasting, the pope said it is a way for believers to submit themselves “humbly to God, trusting in his goodness and mercy.”
“Denying material food, which nourishes our body, nurtures an interior disposition to listen to Christ and be fed by his saving word,” the pope wrote.
“Through fasting and prayer we allow him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God,” he said.
APPETITES OF NATURE
While some people fast to cleanse their body or to lose weight, Christians fast during Lent in order “to heal all that prevents them from conformity to the will of God,” he said.
“Freely chosen detachment from the pleasure of food and other material goods helps the disciple of Christ to control the appetites of nature, weakened by original sin,” the pope wrote.
At the same time, he said, “fasting is an aid to open our eyes to the situation in which so many of our brothers and sisters live.”
By fasting in solidarity with the poor, “freely embracing an act of self-denial for the sake of another, we make a statement that our brother or sister in need is not a stranger,” the pope said.