Q: Archbishop J, Why should we do penance and fast for this crisis? We did not do anything wrong.
The Church is the body of Christ; if one suffers then all suffer together (1 Cor 12:26). Our Holy Father reminds us of this truth in his ‘Letter to the People of God’ on the scandals (August 20). We have brought great harm to the innocent. With the victims we enter into solidarity. We make reparation, repent and offer the healing balm of God’s mercy to all who suffer.
In communion with Pope Francis, I am asking all the faithful to join together in acts of reparation through prayer and fasting on First Fridays and on other occasions, as your heart leads you.
St Paul in his letter to the Colossians says: “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (1 Col 1:24).
Here St Paul points to dynamic participation: We can unite our sufferings with those who suffer and “fill up in the flesh” what is lacking. It is not just that when one suffers all suffer. It is also that again Christ suffers. We are His body and our suffering as Church is united to Christ, who in the Church is suffering in our world today. With every victim, the whole body of Christ and its head suffer.
Pope Francis says: “Today we are challenged as the People of God to take on the pain of our brothers and sisters wounded in their flesh and in their spirit. If, in the past, the response was one of omission, today we want solidarity, in the deepest and most challenging sense, to become our way of forging present and future history” (Letter to the People of God).
This evil in the Church that has wounded many innocent children will only be removed by prayer and fasting (Mk 9:29).
Pope Francis says: “It is essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable. Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others. An awareness of sin helps us to acknowledge the errors, the crimes and the wounds caused in the past and allows us, in the present, to be more open and committed along a journey of renewed conversion.”
First Friday devotions
In answer to the Holy Father’s request, I am asking all Catholics to revive again the First Friday devotions that became popular through the revelations of St Margaret Mary Alacoque, which asked Catholics to observe First Fridays by attending Mass, receiving Holy Communion and, if the need arose, to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation before the reception of Communion.
Many parishes added a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament. I am asking, together with the Holy Father, that we add fasting to the prayer. The First Friday devotions, a means to make reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, are needed today more than ever.
In his encyclical letter on the devotion to the Sacred Heart, Pope Pius XII says: “… [It] is clear that the revelations made to St Margaret Mary brought nothing new into Catholic doctrine. Their importance lay in this, that Christ Our Lord, exposing His Sacred Heart, wished in a quite extraordinary way to invite the minds of men to a contemplation of, and a devotion to, the mystery of God’s merciful love for the human race. In this special manifestation Christ pointed to His Heart, with definite and repeated words, as the symbol by which men should be attracted to a knowledge and recognition of His love; and at the same time He established it as a sign or pledge of mercy and grace for the needs of the Church of our times” (#97, Haurietis Aquas, 1956).
First Friday devotions used to be a pillar of Catholic identity. Every Catholic home had a picture of the Sacred Heart and, of course, the Immaculate Heart visible upon entry through the front door. Let us revive these devotions as a way of filling up in our flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.
Fasting is an ancient spiritual practice. By depriving the body of sensory experience, the soul is unfettered from its earthly attractions and is more easily available to God. Sensory deprivation has been long part of spiritual practice. Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights in the desert (Mt 4:1–3).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1434, says: “The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others. Alongside the radical purification brought about by Baptism or martyrdom they cite as means of obtaining forgiveness of sins: efforts at reconciliation with one’s neighbour, tears of repentance, concern for the salvation of one’s neighbour, the intercession of the saints, and the practice of charity ‘which covers a multitude of sins’.”
This First Friday Fast is not an obligation: it is a request that we enter into solidarity with the whole Church and make reparation. Some may choose to have only water during the day; others may have bread and water. Others may want two small portions during the day to ensure blood sugar remains stable.
Some may choose to abstain from something they like for that day. Whatever you choose to do, let us do it with great generosity of heart and love for Christ and His Church. Let us use the day to pray for all the victims who suffer daily because of abuse. Let us also pray for the Holy Father that he may have the discernment and courage to lead the Church in these troubling times.
Key Point: We can contribute to the renewal of the Church by acts of prayer, devotion and fasting on First Fridays.
Action Step: Let us make First Fridays a time of prayer and fasting when we attend Mass and receive Holy Communion. Let us also spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, if possible.
Scripture Passage: Isaiah 58: 1–9; Matthew 9:14–15