(December 31, 2017)
Bottom line: I invite you to begin the New Year with a three day fast and prayer.
Today we celebrate Holy Family Sunday. By a nice coincidence it falls on the very last day of the year - a good moment to take stock and look forward. Like many of you, I have been praying for our families and particularly for our children. Last Sunday I mentioned the paradox - the seeming contradiction - that even though our children have more abundance than any previous generation they also experience greater depression and sadness. They have devices like computers and cell phones that can instantaneously retrieve information and connect with people anywhere, yet they experience more disconnectedness. And by dramatically increased numbers they have become alienated not only from the practice of the faith but even from faith itself.
Many of our moms - and dads - feel like Mary in today's Gospel. A sword pierces their heart. I feel it too. There's no easy answer. Plenty of advice out there and we should not ignore it, but no quick solution. I certainly don't have an answer but Jesus does. For that reason I have undertaken fasting and prayer for our children. I ask you to join me in a three day fast to begin the New Year 2018. In the bulletin I explain what I hope to do and the guidelines for a Daniel Fast, what foods to eat and which ones to avoid. It's not super rigorous. I've done it a few times this past year. In a vegetable only fast the first day you might feel a craving and a hunger that seems insupportable but the second and third day turn out not so bad.
For certain people it may not be difficult at all. Some of my priest friends will have a cup of coffee and a piece of toast in the morning, then go through the day so busy that only about 9 at night they realize they haven't eaten all day. That's not me. I love food and I panic if I miss a meal. I fantasize about food. For me perfect happiness is a bowl of linguine and a glass of wine. Even though I'm not a big meat eater, I do love a nice steak. I'm thinking about how I want the Knights to cook my steak on the 27th, how much sauteed mushrooms and onions to smother it with and what I'm going to put on the baked potato!
To fast, to abstain from savory food does cost me something. But I find that fasting joined to prayer has great power. The fast itself becomes a prayer offered to God.
So I invite you to begin the year with a three day fast offered to God for our children.
I mentioned some of the disturbing things happening to our children. But there are hopeful, positive signs. Besides revealing depression, disconnectedness and loss of faith, the studies show that our young people have a longing for family. Some of their dreams about family are amazingly traditional. For example, studies asked young adults ages 18-24 if they agree with this statement: "It is best for the man to achieve outside the home and the woman to take care of home and family." 73% said yes.* That is, almost three quarters of our young people want the man to work hard for his family and the wife to be able to devote herself to caring for the children and home. Not so easy in today's world. It would mean doing without a lot of things, but that's what young people say they dream about.
Young people want family. They even want a traditional family. Here's an even more surprising result. They asked young adults, once again 18 to 24, if "the husband should make all the important decisions in the family." Brace yourself. 39% agreed. That's a ten percent increase as compared to 15 years ago. Four out of ten dream of a very traditional marriage.
We know that dreams and reality are often very different. Still the Bible says, "Your sons and daughters shall prophesy and young men shall have visions." We want to encourage those visions and help young people realize those dreams. Tomorrow - New Year's Day - I will talk more about this next week. For today I invite you to begin the New Year with a three day fast and prayer. You can start after the Bowl games, but begin tomorrow and continue through January 4. For sure we face a great challenge today but not without hope. God will intervene if we empty ourselves before him. In the words of today's Psalm, "The Lord remembers his covenant forever." Amen.
*These studies come from iGen by Dr. Jean M. Twenge