One of the points I made in the last two columns is that prayer and fasting turn our vision away from our human tendency to see ourselves as the center of everything. Prayer brings us closer to God and also helps us see those around us as also being children of God. Those who are in need are truly our sisters and brothers, for God is their Father as well as ours. By denying ourselves in fasting, we can be more aware that all the gifts we have come from God. Furthermore, when we accept hunger voluntarily, we are more aware of those who are hungry from not having enough of this world’s goods. We can become more sympathetic with those who are in need and more willing to reach out a helping hand.
Fasting also frees up more of our resources that we can use for others. Someone who has given up drinking, for example, can think of how expensive beer is. The money we don’t spend on whatever we are fasting from can be used to help someone who is struggling. Or perhaps we are cutting back on television during Lent. The time we would have spent “vegging out” in front of the TV can go to some good use. Perhaps there is someone we know we should call or visit – perhaps someone who has no family to talk to. Such a visit may not be easy, for it may be someone who tells the same stories over and over or who goes into more detail than we want to hear about the latest medical crisis. Yet is that conversation really any less pleasant than some of the things we might see on the reality show we have turned off for that hour? Not only are we growing closer to God by our fasting, we are also doing something good with the time, money or other resources that we have saved.
Certainly, we realize that the requests we get for help can be overwhelming. We know we cannot cure all the world’s ills. Christ Himself told us, “The poor you will have with you always.” If we could meet every need, then there would be no more hunger, no more homelessness, and every family could afford to send their children to St. Malachy School. But perhaps we can remember the story of the little boy at the seashore who noticed a number of starfish that had washed ashore with the tide and were now stranded and dying on the shore. As he was throwing starfish back into the sea, a man walked by and said, “Look at how many starfish have washed ashore. There’s no way you can save them all.” “No,” replied the boy as he picked up a starfish, “but at least I can make a difference to this one.” Let’s hope that this Lent, we can make a difference to someone at least.