This is the second of three articles on the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Lent is a season in which we respond to the Lord’s call to “return to me with all your heart, / with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” (Joel 2:12) As I remind young people of the requirements for Lent, I usually share this passage with them to remind them that this obligation is nothing more than responding to God’s Word. One time, a young lady asked me, “Wait, what are we crying about?”
“Our sins,” I replied.
I then explained that abstaining from things like meat, chocolate, and television is not meant as a form of punishment; rather, abstinence is to remind us that the thing we should really be fasting from is sin. “Fasting and abstinence,” I said, “remind us that we are totally dependent on God. Fasting helps us develop the discipline to say ‘no’ to the things that will hurt our relationship with God and with others.”
The young people shrugged. I knew they heard me, but I wasn’t sure if they had understood the role fasting and abstinence play in turning our hearts back toward God.
This year I will ask for the help of an old friend, St. Vincent Ferrer (1350–1419), whose feast day is April 5.
After explaining to young people about fasting and abstinence, I will introduce St. Vincent as an example of how these practices can help them draw closer to God and others. But instead of delivering a lecture about him, I will show young people how they might learn from St. Vincent’s example this Lent.
I will write each of the following facts about St. Vincent on a different slip of paper:
- Before joining the Dominican Order in 1367, Vincent had memorized Scripture.
- Vincent received a vision from St. Dominic and St. Francis, in which they told him to “go through the world and preach Christ.”
- Vincent walked all over Europe, preaching in in Ireland, Scotland, England, France, Spain, Switzerland, and Italy.
- Vincent helped restore unity to the Church during the Great Western Schism, when three different men claimed to be pope.
- Vincent supported the wrong man during the Great Western Schism. When he learned his mistake, he told people to support the true pope.
I will place the slips of paper in a basket. I will then explain that when we give something up for Lent, we can do something in its place that draws us closer to God. Fasting and abstinence give us the freedom to be people for others. That is why it is such an important practice during Lent.
I will then invite the young people to draw a slip of paper, read it aloud, and then, before returning the slip back into the basket, think of something they can do that would imitate St. Vincent. For example:
- Vincent memorized Scripture; a young person could read Scripture each day.
- Vincent “preached Christ;” a young person could preach Christ by performing one of the works of mercy.
- Vincent walked all over Europe; young people could commit to being more active during Lent.
- Vincent helped restore unity to the Church; young people could pray for Pope Francis each day during Lent.
- Vincent admitted his mistake in supporting the wrong man as pope; young people could celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
For the remainder of Lent, we can then begin each class by recalling how we imitated St. Vincent during the week. If time allows (and if the young people seem to enjoy this activity), we can then draw from the basket again.
Fasting helps us grow closer to God by focusing our attention on that which we truly need. By following the example of St. Vincent Ferrer, we can be sure that our Lenten fast will free us to do more for God and others.
Learn about Bob Burnham’s book Little Lessons from the Saints: 52 Simple and Surprising Ways to See the Saint in You.