Friday, August 11, 2017

Schoenstatt: A place, a movement, a spirituality

Wayside shrines dedicated 

to Blessed Mother Mary

WESLACO Sometimes we miss what stands in our own backyard. I have lived in the Rio Grande Valley all my life, and up until this past May had never visited any of the wayside shrines dedicated to Our Lady of Schoenstatt.

Schoenstatt, a German word that means a beautiful place, is a Marian movement started in 1914 by Father Joseph Kentenich in the Rhine region of west-central Germany.

“The Movement emphasizes a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, as we uphold her as a perfect example of love and purity,” said Father Carlos Zuniga, pastor at St. Pius X Church in Weslaco.

“Father Kentenich encouraged those devoted to Schoenstatt to invite the Blessed Mother; hence, her divine Son, Jesus Christ, into the home by establishing a spiritual Covenant of Love with her. It encourages its members to have the faith and purity of children, and to think of Mary as their mother,” he added.

Carlos Cantu, of La Feria, who has been devoted to the movement for more than 50 years, explained the different types of Schoenstatt shrines. The original is located in Germany and replicas, referred to as daughter shrines, number more than 200 throughout the world.
Wayside shrines are smaller and vary from location to location. Additionally, some families set up home shrines.

My mother-in-law, who has a special devotion to Our Lady of Schoenstatt, gave me a small framed image some time ago. In May, as I attempted to post a different picture each day of Our Blessed Mother Mary on my social media sites, I found an unexpected surprise. On the same day I posted a photo of Our Lady of Schoenstatt, I came across the newest wayside shrine dedicated in her honor at St. Pius X Church in Weslaco.

Inspired, I set off to visit each one. There are a total of six in our diocese. I was inspired as well to restart our Close to Home Pilgrimages series in The Valley Catholic.

What strikes me about each of the wayside shrines I visited – the simple beauty. Nothing fancy, nothing large, no sign announcing the location. But each chapel offers a peaceful space for prayer. A small chapel, with three walls measuring not more than five feet by six feet, open always for prayer. No key needed. You won’t find a door. You won’t even find a sign announcing the location.

Yellow roses in Weslaco; a spring bouquet in La Feria; a white and yellow silk arrangement in Santa Rosa next to a red rose and baby’s breath. Someone always places fresh flowers.

Inside on the center wall, an image of the Virgin Mary under the title of Mother Thrice Admirable. The image is from a painting by the Italian artist Luigi Crosio.

You can pray anywhere. We know this. Wayside shrines offer another place to pray. They can even serve as a reminder or a quiet escape. By visiting a wayside shrine, you stop what you are doing and make time to visit with our Blessed Mother, away from distractions and noise of the day. Or maybe while you are driving or in the area, you are moved to stop to say hello to our Mother Mary and pray with her awhile.

Two Schoenstatt sisters, Sister M. Margret Gruending and Sister M. Imma Paul, who arrived in La Feria in 1959, started promoting the devotion shortly after they came to work at St Francis Xavier Church in La Feria. Credited for the birth of the Schoenstatt Movement in the Rio Grande Valley, the sisters recruited members in the community to help build the first wayside shrine for the Mother Thrice Admirable. It was dedicated on Oct. 18, 1964 at St. Francis Xavier Church in La Feria. On the 25th anniversary in 1989, members of the local movement named it “The wayside shrine of loyalty.”

La Feria now has two wayside shrines. The first remains at the site near the old church, and a second was built on the grounds of the new church. Other shrines are located on the grounds of St. Mary Church in Santa Rosa, built in 1966; San Juan Diego Church in McAllen, built in 2010; and the newest one at St. Pius X Church in Weslaco, built in 2014. Another wayside shrine resides in Rio Grande City, on property owned by the Blas Guerra family.

Members of the Schoenstatt Movement selected the Feast of the Queenship of Mary on Aug. 22 as a day to honor the Blessed Mother Mary, Queen of Schoenstatt. This year’s Annual Queenship of Mary Celebration with Bishop Daniel E. Flores begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 22, at St. Mary Catholic Church, 101 San Antonio Ave., Santa Rosa. The feast day, established by Pope Pius XII, celebrates Mary as the queen of heaven and earth.

“In Schoenstatt, we deepen our relationship to God through what we call a covenant of love with the Blessed Mother,” Cantu shared. Adding, “Sometimes it appears like the Blessed Mother is the center. She is not the center but is at the center always pulling us, always wanting us to follow the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

(Published in August 2017 edition of The Valley Catholic)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Learning together and the art of accompaniment

We learn from one another. We are always learning. God did not want us to be know-it-alls working independent of each other. He wanted us to work together, to serve one another. As St. Catherine of Siena shared, God wants us to need one another.

We read in her Dialogue, a collection of her spiritual writings, “I have distributed them all (gifts and graces) in such a way that no one has all of them. Thus have I given you reason — necessity, in fact — to practice mutual charity. … I wanted to make you dependent on one another so that each of you would be my minister, dispensing the graces and gifts you have received from me.”

Understanding “we do not evangelize alone or in a vacuum; we need each other,” the bishops of the United State convened a historical gathering in July, the Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America.  More than 3,500 people (bishops, priests, religious and lay leaders) gathered in Orlando, Fla., the first four days in July to “reflect, pray and discern together … to renew our baptismal commitment to be missionary disciples …” Our goal – focus on how to reach all the peripheries and share the Joy of the Gospel.

While there is certainly much to unpack and process from the talks and conversations that took place, I return with hope, energized for the journey ahead. In the words of Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, who spoke at the closing Mass, “The spirit is alive in the Church in the United States.”

Among my pages of notes, five points stand out in regard to what is needed from each of us – 1. a renewal of joy; 2. to grow our own faith; 3. to go out in a spirit of mission; 4. to be present and accompany others; 5. to go out to the peripheries. 

Our starting point begins with joy, as it is Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), which brought us together. “We, your pastors, believe with Pope Francis, that a renewal of joy is essential for a deepening Catholic vitality and confidence at this moment,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, during his homily at the convocation opening Mass. He quoted philosopher Leon Bloy, who said, “Joy is the infallible sign of God’s presence.”

How do we find joy? Cardinal Dolan shared a story of St. Teresa of Calcutta who said you find joy by looking at the word; each letter outlines our priorities: 1. J, Jesus; 2. O, Others; and 3. Y, Yourself. 

During the convocation, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport emphasized the importance of our interior lives and a radical response. He said it begins as well with humility. Humility, he said, “is needed amongst all of us so that we can come together as a family and create a home.” He asked a telling question, “How many times does our own selfishness and ego get in the way of missionary discipleship?”

I think this question reminds us of our role as lifelong learners. The understanding that we are always learning helps keep our egos in check before they explode into arrogance. No matter how many years I have in the communications field, I find there is always something more to learn. In July, I signed up for another writing class. Even though I write every day, I realize there is so much more to learn. It also provides an opportunity to get feedback from my colleagues as we learn from one another.

I am thankful as well for the grace of this column space and for each of you who read what I share each month. I don’t come before you as an expert, but as a humble servant putting ideas on the page, learning, sharing, wanting to learn more.

As we share, we give witness. It is a part of going out, a spirit of mission. As noted in the convocation Participant Guidebook and Journal, “Each of us is called to witness Christ in the world.”
Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium, tells us we “can make present the fragrance of Christ’s closeness and his personal gaze.” To do this, the Holy Father notes, “The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this ‘art of accompaniment’ which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life.” (EG 169)

The “Art of Accompaniment” certainly reminds us that we walk with one another. We focus on the other, our neighbors near and far. “As we journey together,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, “may we each grow closer to the Lord.”

We have much work ahead of us. As Archbishop Pierre, said before we departed the convocation, “Our mission is beginning. It is always beginning.” And in the words he quoted from a child, “¡Vamos gente; muevanse para Jesus!” 

As a recap, I leave your with a string of hashtags, as I like how they can serve as quick summary – #joy #service #other #humility #accompaniment #witness #missionarydisciple #lifelonglearner.

(Originally published in August 2017 edition of The Valley Catholic newspaper) 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

To say yes, sometimes we have to say no

What does your to-do list look like today? How many commitments are you juggling? My husband reminds me often to put a hold on my workaholic tendencies. Even on weekends and vacation time, I keep a to-do list, checking off one item, adding two more.

A question I should be asking myself: Are all my activities in line with what matters?

My sister gave me some excellent advice a few years ago, which echoes in my ears each time I am asked to take on a new commitment. “Every time you say ‘no’ to a new request for your time, you are saying ‘yes’ to your family.”

This holds true as well in our faith lives. For as we say no to what is not important, we create room in our lives to follow the Virgin Mary’s example and say yes to God.

However, in the midst of our busy buzz, we need to pay close attention to what we are saying yes to. To do this it is helpful to pause. In a world where we feel inclined toward rushing all the time, multitasking on several projects at once, it seems awkward to pause.  It’s as if we think that by stopping for bit we might miss something.

Our capacity to discern, however, requires time. Retreats can offer space for a needed pause, for a moment to consider how we are using our time. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola include a helpful framework for discernment.

In his rules for discernment, St. Ignatius explained the different motives, which influence our decisions as a movement of spirits. He classified these as consolations and desolations. Consolations move us toward deepening our relationship with God, while desolations pull us away. “Our one choice,” he said, “should be this: I want and choose what better leads to God’s deepening life in me.”

In the secular world, Stephen Covey, author of the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” suggests writing a personal mission statement. He also offers a time management matrix for organizing priorities. It includes a quadrant for what is 1. Urgent and important; 2. Not urgent but important; 3. Urgent but not important; and 4. Not urgent and not important.

As we focus on our priorities, understanding our goals and objectives, we learn it’s okay to say
no. When we say “no” it helps us consider our capacity for what we can add to our hours. More importantly, Saying no helps us say yes to what matters.

Throughout our day, we are saying no to a host of things before us – to new tasks, to temptations the modern world offers such materialism, greed, gluttony; to emotions which are harmful – negativity, anger, rage; to all that keeps us from saying yes to living more fruitful and grace-filled days.

Just as we must measure and watch what we eat and try to exercise our bodies to stay fit, it’s helpful to take a step back from all our activities not only to recharge ourselves, but also to get some perspective. I know firsthand that saying yes too often can lead to overextending myself.

We have to ask ourselves, are we addicted to busy or to being tethered, always connected to our mobile devices and social media notifications?

When it comes to saying no, I draw inspiration from my sister Leslie who said no to her profession as a stockbroker and later as a teacher so she could focus on her family. Also, from my friend Zulema, who despite a fulltime job and raising a six-year-old, found time to train for her first half Ironman race in May. She did this by saying no to new projects and to television and saying yes to exercise. I think, too, of all the priests and the religious men and women in our diocese who have said yes to God’s call and said no to another vocation.

As we evaluate where we are and the direction, we recognize God may be trying to get our attention and alter our course. We can’t say yes to everything. What can you say no to that would help you say yes to something that truly needs your attention?
(Originally published in July 2017 edition of The Valley Catholic newspaper) 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Finding joy in the darkness

Fear can paralyze us. After my father died, it took me more than a year and a half to return to his home, my childhood home. With windows boarded up and weeds growing, the house sat abandoned until recently when I finally decided, and with my siblings’ promptings, that it was time.

I was overwhelmed. The emotions of dealing with my father’s home coursed through the full spectrum. But I found strength to find the positive side of the situation.

Pope Francis in his message for the 51st World Communications Day addressed the theme “‘Fear not, for I am with you’ (Is 43:5): Communicating hope and trust in our time.” In his message, he said, “Everything depends on the way we look at things, on the lens we use to view them.”

We need to remember this in the dark days that emerge from time to time in our lives. Through health struggles, family dramas, financial burdens. Also, we can’t escape the headlines filled with the tragedies occurring near and far.

James in his letter tells us, “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (Jas 1: 2-3).

“Consider it all joy.” Easier to consider when we are not living in the middle of the storm. How do we proceed when it’s too dark to see? James reminds us we must ask God for wisdom, and that we must do so with faith. (Jas 1: 5-6)

It also requires us to consider the lens we use to view a moment we are living. Jun Ellorimo, a triathlete and trainer in Harlingen, shared with our group, “Struggles, challenges, obstacles, or anything that falls in that line are a part of life. We will all encounter that. As Christians, we are not spared from it.” Some struggles, he said, “will either 1. Destroy us; 2. Define us; or 3. Develop us. It’s our choice.”

Pope Francis in his message proposed, “that all of us work at overcoming that feeling of growing discontent and resignation that can at times generate apathy, fear or the idea that evil has no limits.”

“I would like, then, to contribute to the search for an open and creative style of communication that never seeks to glamorize evil but instead to concentrate on solutions and to inspire a positive and responsible approach on the part of its recipients.”

If we are to find solutions, we must rely on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Feast of Pentecost this month on June 4 is a good time to remember that we are each given gifts to share. Remembering, too, that we can’t share the gifts if we allow ourselves to be paralyzed by fear and other trials.

In our communication ministry, we recognize we have an important responsibility to share the stories in our diocese, a diocese that serves more than one million Catholics here in the Rio Grande Valley. In sharing the stories, we can see how God is always at work in our lives, we can indeed “consider it all joy.”

I am grateful for the grace to serve in this ministry and to do as Pope Francis asks, “offer people of our time storylines that are at heart ‘good news’.”

As Pope Francis notes in his World Communications Day message, “This good news – Jesus himself – is not good because it has nothing to do with suffering, but rather because suffering itself becomes part of a bigger picture.” He adds, “In Christ, God has shown his solidarity with every human situation.”

I’m not finished with my father’s home, with the emptying and sorting through what he left behind. I know too there are other moments that will test me, but I trust God will help me “fear not,” for he is with me. I also trust he will put people on my path to remind me and that we will remind and help each other find the joy in each moment.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Women of Easter, carrying hope

With continued talk of building a wall along our border with Mexico, we need to continue to oppose such efforts. It is easy to get disheartened at times, but we need to remember in this Easter season, we are people of hope. We proceed with joyful, hopeful and faithful hearts. These are the common attributes shared by the women in the book “The Women of Easter: Encounter the Savior with Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth, and Mary Magdalene,” by Liz Curtis Higgs.

In April, some fellow poets and I visited the border wall near the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse in Hidalgo. As we walked the edges and went around the wall to explore the old trails overgrown now from disuse, I wondered how many more nature trails would be cut from our reach, and how unwelcoming and threatening our borders are becoming. As we read our poems to give others a glimpse of our Rio Grande Valley, we found comfort in knowing our words can impact the world.

Our actions, too, are important.

Bishop Daniel E. Flores in a lecture titled “The Politics of Human Dignity, Catholics and Immigration” which he presented at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, said, “A Catholic must begin with hope which for us can only emerge from our contemplation of the One who watches in the night. For us politics can only really be about keeping faith with Him, and what he shows us about God, about ourselves and about our neighbor.”

Holy Week leading up to Easter left us also with some lessons we should remember throughout the year. Each of the Triduum celebrations had a common theme of coming together and of accompanying Christ on his way to Calvary.

On Holy Thursday, “The Lord washes the feet of his disciples, and he says at the end of it, ‘As I have done for you, so you must do for one another.’” Bishop Flores reminded us the Lord “wants us to wash each other’s feet in humility and in service.”

On Good Friday, as we accompanied Christ on the Via Dolorosa, we reflected on his humility and suffering. Bishop Flores pointed out in his homily on Good Friday, we need to recognize the humility of the cross and the hope it offers. “Only a people humble of heart really understand what the hope of the cross is.” He also said we need to seek God’s grace. “We need to seek, we need strength, we need love and we need the courage to be true.”

At the Easter Vigil Mass, we witnessed the power the Lord has over death, and that he is with us at all times. He is the light. “The risen one opens the eyes of the blind to what really matters.” It is up to us to share this news.

Daily we walk together, following Christ’s example, and the example of his Blessed Mother Mary.
Bishop Flores, in his lecture, said we can sometimes forget that “God’s governance in history expresses itself primarily through human agency.” He shared the story of his grandmother who “prayed that if ever they (her grandchildren) are in trouble, God would put a kind and generous soul in their path to help them.” “She was a woman of faith, and trusted to God that He would find ways to help them. Mostly, that meant He would put the right people in their path,” he said.

Bishop adds, “The mirror image of that kind of perception, available to anyone with faith and a little imagination, is that we are also all potentially answers to some grandmother’s prayer in some place far away. Indeed, the generosity God inspires in each one of us today is his answer to someone’s prayer.”

These words resonate. They imbue us too with responsibility as we consider how we can be the “answer to someone’s prayer.” I encourage you take some time to read the bishop’s entire lecture, which is posted on his blog.

“Even in a wounded world,” he notes, “people find themselves crossing paths with someone who will not abandon them to disaster.”

While some may insist on building walls, we must continue to be God’s hands and feet in the world, offering care to those who need it. We must move forward as joyful men and women of Easter carrying hope into the world.

(Originally published in May 2017 edition of The Valley Catholic newspaper) 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Finding focus in a world of distractions

Several years ago, I purchased some juggling balls along with an instruction booklet. Maybe I thought if I actually learned how to juggle, I could transfer the skill to help me focus on all that requires my attention.

We live in a world of distractions. Despite our best efforts to stay on course, an onslaught of diversions can halt our progress. Sometimes these diversions are beyond our control, such as emergencies or family needs; sometimes it’s the nature of our work and we must multitask as we carry out our responsibilities and tasks.

As much as I try to designate specific time for writing, my sentences are often paused in mid-thought so that I can respond to a request or tend to another matter. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Some days feel like a game of tug of war.

My natural tendency to chase butterflies, or rather lose focus easily, does not help. To compensate requires some strategies to keep my attention where needed. The Lenten Season provides some helpful resources, as does the Easter Season. 

Four years ago, I completed an online spiritual retreat, “An Ignatian Prayer Adventure,” based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. The eight-week retreat asked participants “to commit to a regular period of prayer each day.”

Given that once the phone starts ringing before I even enter the office, my days lean toward the unpredictable. To avoid any interruptions, I made it a point to wake up an hour earlier during this time and set some other parameters in place to ensure my concentration. This experience invigorated me. By the time I left home, I felt accomplished, and this motivated me further to stay on course.

Part of the spiritual exercise called for taking note of the attachments in our lives. St. Ignatius referred to the things that keep us from God as “disordered attachments.” The constant distractions in our days can fall in this category.

Technology and social media feed our short attention spans. I know I am not the only one guilty of planning to spend only 10 minutes checking Facebook or Twitter. Then half an hour or even an hour later, we look up and suddenly realize how much time has passed.

Recognizing what attachments or addictions keep us from God and from other priorities in our life is a step toward making changes. From time to time, for example, I completely disconnect from social media. Sometimes for just a day or a weekend, sometimes for longer periods. As for the notification alerts, I keep those off at all times to avoid the distraction. Netflix is another temptation I have to limit. If I’m not careful, it’s too easy to binge-watch yet another series I find interesting. Shifting our focus from unhealthy distractions gives us more time to assist someone who needs our help or to concentrate on a project that requires our attention.

Rigoberta Menchú Tum, the 1992 Nobel Prize winner from Guatemala, spoke in March at a women’s conference, “Mujeres Formadoras de Paz” in Reynosa. I am thankful Sister Norma Pimentel, director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, attended the conference and recorded some of her talk.

Menchú’s talk has a number of points I plan to revisit. Two points resonate: First, she stressed the need for organization and clear goals and objectives. “Good intentions alone do not change things,” she said. Second, she advised women to distance themselves from vice, which keeps us from moving in the direction of our goals.

In this world of distractions, we can take steps to find focus. We can start by being intentional. This does require us to pause from the busyness of our day and find some quiet to concentrate. Turning to prayer has become my priority in this process. We can then proceed to making choices about what matters most as we set our goals for our faith life, families, vocations and health. Periodically we also need to pause, consider our progress, evaluate what changes may be needed.

The Daily Examen offered by St. Ignatius is another helpful practice. It includes five steps: 1. Become aware of God’s presence. 2. Review the day with gratitude. 3. Pay attention to your emotions. 4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. 5. Look toward tomorrow. More resources are available online at
As for the juggling balls, I never devoted enough time to learn how to juggle. I am thankful, though, that I did learn how to focus when needed.

(Originally published in April 2017 edition of The Valley Catholic newspaper) 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Fasting year-round, learning to surrender

Because some things should remain private, I have hesitated writing about my devotional fast. However, I believe we learn from one another. Sharing helps us engage in conversations that lead to greater understanding.

I started fasting twice a week close to four years ago. I began not for the reasons one might think, but as a health measure. After watching the BBC documentary “Eat, Fast & Live Longer” by Dr. Michael Mosley, a physician and journalist, I wanted to try intermittent fasting. According to research, fasting provides time for the body to initiate healing.

“It’s not just about how we eat, but when and how we eat it,” said Mosley. In his documentary, he looked at the scientific theory that calorie restriction influences longevity in humans.

My mother died young. She was 50 years old. Since her death, I have been on hyper alert to ways of living healthier. Naturally, I wanted to reap the benefits of intermittent fasting. We take extreme measuring fighting an illness; why not take extreme measures at prevention?

Over time, my practice has evolved into a devotional fast, and I see it now as a gift.

I felt guilty that my fasting did not come prompted for spiritual reasons as part of my ongoing prayer life. Father Alex Flores, pastor at San Juan Diego Parish in McAllen, put me at ease one day when he explained, “Grace builds upon nature.” He said God is gentle and uses our natural inclinations to draw us toward him. So while I started this discipline for health reasons, God helped me understand there are greater reasons to fast.

Fasting is one of the three pillars of the Lenten season. Which draws me to the question I ask myself frequently, “Why fast?” Each week I find more and more reasons to continue my twice-weekly fast.

For thousands of years people have fasted – some for spiritual reasons, some for health. During Lent, we focus on Jesus Christ’s fast in the desert. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his message for Lent 2009 said, “The Sacred Scriptures and the entire Christian tradition teach that fasting is a great help to avoid sin and all that leads to it. For this reason, the history of salvation is replete with occasions that invite fasting.”

He adds, “Fasting represents an important ascetical practice, a spiritual arm to do battle against every possible disordered attachment to ourselves. 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, whose negative effects impact the entire human person.”

I remain in awe of how God works in our lives and by how our Blessed Mother calls us closer to her son. Early in my fasting journey, my husband and I made plans to visit Croatia. While our original plans did not include Medjugorje in Bosnia, the site where apparitions of the Blessed Mother began in 1981, the proximity prompted us to include a side journey.

It truly felt like our Blessed Mother was guiding us toward Medjugorje. She was also helping me gain a better understanding of the discipline of regularly abstaining from food. I did not realize at the time Our Lady of Medjugorje is calling for fasting twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays. I still can’t seem to trade my Tuesday fast for Wednesday, but at some point I may be ready.

To date, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has not issued a doctrinal judgment on the apparitions. However, on Feb. 11 Catholic News Agency reported Pope Francis “appointed Archbishop Henryk Hoser of Warszawa-Praga as a delegate of the Holy See to look into the pastoral situation at Medjugore, the site of alleged Marian apparitions in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

This does not diminish the call for fasting. While I sometimes fail, the weekly practice of abstaining from meals keeps me aware of the graces that flow from this devotion.

For one, fasting compliments prayer on multiple levels. It is a great gift to offer up a fast when someone has asked for a specific prayer intention. I am becoming more aware as well that fasting is part of my ongoing surrender to God. Learning to rely on him for strength, each fast brings some insight to a moment before me or to a lesson on my spiritual journey.

Second, fasting keeps me in balance by helping me focus on what is important. I’ve learned to better appreciate the blessings before me. I have also become more aware of the needs of others.

Often fasting serves as a reset button for times when I overindulge and have committed gluttony or when I veer off course from healthy eating. Not only does fasting keep me in check, it makes me more mindful of my meals on the days I don’t fast. I have a greater appreciation for the foods I consume.

Third, fasting offers health benefits for body and mind. Scientists continue to study this and find more and more proof of the merits of periodically abstaining from meals.

Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician known as the Father of Modern Medicine, advocated for fasting. He noted, “The man carries within him a doctor; you just have to help him do his work. If the body is not cleared, then the more you feed it, the more it will be harmed. When a patient is fed too richly, the disease is fed as well. Remember – any excess is against nature.”

What a blessing. Fasting does not need to be reserved for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We can incorporate the practice year-round. I will likely continue to stumble at times, but I trust God will set me back on the path, however many times it takes.

(Originally published in March 2017 edition of The Valley Catholic newspaper)