The art and the heart of family fasting

By Father Ted Stoecklein
Assistant Director, Office of Priestly Vocations

Editor’s Note:The following continues the ongoing series on Fasting for Priestly Vocations. This week’s column encourages and offers ideas in which families can fast together.

Year to year, we in the diocesan vocation office look for and encounter young men who are sincerely seeking direction in their lives. It often happens that I meet a young man, invite him to an Andrew dinner with Bishop John, encourage him to go to a discernment retreat or two, help him to grow in his prayer life, and vigilantly watch his progress ... and after all that, he goes and gets married.

Now, some folks might consider this a failure with regard to priestly vocation. But if that young man has honestly sought God’s will and has found peace in his vocation to marriage, then I consider it a great victory. The family is the seedbed of vocations. When our families are healthy, we will have healthy vocations. If we want to support priestly vocations, we must build up the family.

However, all too often young men tell me that they fear discerning a call to the priesthood because their parents or family members discourage such an undertaking.

On the other hand, when we foster in our homes the honesty to trust whatever God wants for each member of the family, then children and young adults will truly feel free to respond generously to God’s call on their lives.

Fasting and prayer are integral tools to help free us in order that we might find courage to trust God.

Specific to our theme of fasting for priestly vocations, then, I would encourage several ways in which families may take up this call from our bishop.

One can take a direct approach: A family united in some form of fast for priests, seminarians and young, single men is very powerful and does wonders for unity within the family. With this type of fasting, a family should choose one thing that every member of the family is able to do and agree upon it. I think Bishop John offered some wonderful ideas in the last issue of the Southwest Kansas Catholic. I especially encourage periodic fasting from electronics or social media as a family, while feasting on family time, including, but not limited to, family meals.

Fasting for priestly vocations can also be done indirectly by fasting for the members of one’s own family. In the last few years I have witnessed the phenomena of men uniting with other men in fasting for their wives and family. This has been wonderful to behold and I believe it is bearing much fruit.

One such group calls itself “e5men” (e5men.org – check it out). Here, men agree to fast on bread and water once a month for their wives. Their wives in turn offer the graces they encounter at Mass in gratitude for their husbands.

Also, I have been hearing from young men (especially on college campuses) about something called “Exodus 90” (exodus90.com) This is a bit more “hard core” and is really geared toward gaining spiritual purity and freedom for men, but it sure could be used to heal and strengthen families, as well.  I have not discovered any women’s group specifically geared toward fasting, but that does not mean that they do not exist.

The point I want to make is that when a husband and wife support each other with fasting and prayer, coupled by that of their children or other family members, goodness follows. In particular, the virtue of generosity flows from such actions. And generosity is at the heart of God’s call to matrimony and priesthood.