Fasting for others’ sins: what does it mean?

By Cari Terracina, Publications Manager

“I turned to the Lord, to seek help, in prayer and petition, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.” (Daniel 9:3)

As the Church as a whole processes the information of the recent clerical abuse scandals, several of our church leaders have pointed out the importance of taking action, of continuously returning to prayer, and of taking up the act of fasting as penance.

The notion of doing penance and fasting for others is a tricky one, particularly when those others are fellow Catholics who have wronged us by their sin. But, as Christians, doing penance for others means that we bear the cross alongside Jesus, and offer our innocent sufferings in union with His for the good of others. When deciding what to fast from as a specific form of prayer and penance, it’s important to get to the heart of fasting itself. Fasting from meals or food is an obvious choice, and something that most of us are used to. However, for those who cannot fast from food (pregnant or nursing women, the chronically ill, those recovering from eating disorders, and so on), or those who feel called to a different form of penance, there are countless other ways to fast. When trying to decide on what to fast in reparation and repentance, ask yourself the following questions:

What do I love? A great place to start when praying about a fast is to look at the good things that we love – our creature comforts. Those little moments of reprieve throughout the day that we likely choose without thinking. Dessert. Warm showers. Television. Alcohol. Phone games and apps. Social media. Driving above the speed limit. Our favorite chair in the comfort of our home. Consider giving those things up completely or limiting them to a set amount of time.

What do I love more than God? There are things in our lives that are morally neutral, and can be good in and of themselves. But do we place too much value on them? Do we use them as an escape from reality? Do they cause us to sin? The items listed above, and many more, are not evil things. But we can use them for evil when we place them above the things that Christ asks of us. What can we fast from that inadvertently pulls us away from God and his people?

What would make me uncomfortable? What is something that we can do that would make us uncomfortable, that we can in turn offer to the Lord in penance and reparation? Maybe it would be finally getting back to the Sacrament of Confession. Putting a small pebble in our shoe. Reaching out to a friend or neighbor who we don’t particularly love or even know with a simple gesture. Going out of the house without makeup. Waking up in the middle of the night for a Holy Hour. Sending a handwritten card to a priest, seminarian, or religious who has inspired us with their example or teaching. Practices like these remove us from our selfishness, and bring us into the light of God and his community.

How can I console the Lord? Finally, consider ways to love Jesus. As deeply as our hearts are shattered over the abuse that has occurred and been covered up in our Church, Our Lord is infinitely more heartbroken, outraged, and betrayed. God gave each of us very unique hearts and spirits that can love Him in a way that no one else on earth can. Our own prayers of adoration and thanksgiving comfort Him. The Psalms are a good place to start if you’re unsure of how to pray or what to say in moments of prayer.

Thank you for being the Church, and for fasting and praying for all of her members. We are praying, fasting, and acting right alongside you to bring healing and renewal.