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If You Fast, Show Mercy

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by Joe Bulger, Acting Executive Director, CCNLA

A friend of mine recently shared a quote from St. Peter Chrysologus about the three Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving:

Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting…. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others, you open God’s ear to yourself.

When I was a child, my family always chose a few things to do together for the season of Lent, in addition to each of us choosing something personally to give up. One thing we did for many years was to have oatmeal for dinner on Fridays and to give the money we saved with this simple meal to an organization serving the poor. In my mind this cemented the connection between fasting and almsgiving. Rather than simply abstain from meat, we chose to deliberately eat simpler, cheaper food so that those in need could have a little more. Rather than simply give alms out of our excess, we chose to give to the point where it impacted the way we lived.

Of course, this is a small, simple example, but there is a spiritual component as well. As Catholics, we know that fasting and almsgiving are more than ways to be simple and kind. They are also acts of service and dedication to God our Lord and in this way are closely connected to prayer. When we go out of our way to serve the poor and the needy, we are serving Jesus Christ Himself. At the great judgement scene in Matthew 25, the King says to those who are righteous:

Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…. Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.

This passage is the inspiration for much of what we do at Catholic Charities of North Louisiana and is the reason why we refer to our regular monthly donors as our Matthew 25 partners. These generous individuals have answered the call in this passage to serve Christ in these least brothers and sisters of His by partnering with Catholic Charities and giving what they can not only once a year, but every single month.

Mike and Barbara Van Vranken are founding members of CCNLA and when asked recently, Mike testified, “In the Early days of CCNLA, I became a monthly Matthew 25 partner. The heart of Jesus’ message in Matthew’s gospel is clearly summed up here. If you care about how you are judged, refer to Matthew 25. If you care about how you love Jesus, refer to Matthew 25. I cannot imagine a more direct response to the call of Christ than partnering with our own Catholic Charities and making monthly Matthew 25 donations.”  Because of Mike and Barbara, and MANY others who are dedicated to helping those in need, our staff and volunteers continues to be the hands of feet of Jesus.

As we journey through this time of Lent, will you answer the call as well? Will you commit to giving alms not only in the seasons of Advent and Lent but every month of the year? Will you partner with Catholic Charities to live the message of Matthew 25? If your answer is yes, please visit our website at ccnla.org, email us [email protected], or call (318) 865-0200 to join our Matthew 25 partners.  We are grateful for your prayers and support as we work to serve the needy in our diocese across north Louisiana.     

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