“I wish to tell you, dear children, to renew living the messages I am giving you. Especially live the messages regarding your fasting, because your fasting gives me joy, and by fasting you will attain the fulfillment of the whole plan which God is planning here at Medjugorje. Thank you for having responded to my call” (Our Lady of Medjugorje, September 26, 1985).

The Madonna tells us in this message that fasting is a foundation for bringing forth into full flowering the message of Medjugorje. Note also how fasting has an integral role in bringing about the whole plan of God at Medjugorje. In this article I would like to talk about three aspects of this call of fasting. First of all, the general Medjugorje call to fast by the Gospa. Secondly, the nature and profound fruits of fasting, with an emphasis on understanding fasting in a positive light. Too often we have a negative notion of fasting, much like the negative notion of the Sacrament of Penance which we discussed earlier. This is a great injustice to the spiritual gift that fasting is to the seekers of Christian holiness. Thirdly, and most importantly, I’ll treat how fasting can be incorporated into our lives in a personal and family way, how we can prudentially, and in a way that sanctifies our family, incorporate this call to fasting.

General Medjugorje Call to Fasting


The Blessed Mother began in 1981 by asking for Friday as a day of strict fasting. Then in August of 1984 she added Wednesdays along with Fridays as days of strict fast. She said, as conveyed by the visionaries, to “Fast strictly on Wednesdays and Fridays.” Our Lady asked that this call of fasting be heeded, especially by the people in the region, with a “firm will.” The visionaries then asked the Blessed Virgin, “What is the best fast?” Our Lady responded, “A fast of bread and water.” So the best way of fasting in responding to Our Lady’s fasting requests is the fast of bread and water. I will talk about the particular beauty that comes with the bread and water fast when we get to our discussion of personal incorporation.

In a July 1982 message, in the second year of the apparitions, the Madonna referred to the forgotten value of fasting by Christians: “Christians have forgotten they can prevent war and even natural calamities by prayer and fasting.” This corresponds well with what Out Lord says about fasting in Sacred Scripture. In Matthew 17, when the disciples came back after being unable to expel the demon from the possessed boy, they asked Our Lord why their efforts were futile. Our Lord responded firstly that they lacked faith, and secondly that “this kind does not leave but by prayer and fasting” (Mt 17:21). This bespeaks the spiritual power of prayer when united with fasting.

Prayer and fasting is the appropriate combination when you’re talking about the created level of human beings. Angels don’t fast because angels don’t have material bodies. The material order doesn’t fast because its members, i.e. animals, plants, rocks, don’t have immortal souls. Only the being with body and soul as his essence, only the human person, is called to fasting.

In the beatitudes, Our Lord simply presumes the practice of fasting by his disciples. “And when you fast”—it’s a presumption; He assumes that after the bridegroom is gone that we, His disciples, would fast. He says:


And when you fast, do not look dismal like the hypocrites… for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but your Heavenly Father (Mt 6:6).


So, Our Lady is asking for Wednesday and Friday as days of penance, and specifically fasting. Now why would the Virgin be coming to us in the twentieth century with this new call to Wednesday and Friday fasting? Historically and theologically, it is in no sense a new call. In fact, it can be easily documented that Wednesday and Friday were the designated fasting days in the early Church. The Didache (the Greek term for the document called the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), written somewhere between 60 and 120 A.D., was basically the first Christian manual on how to live the Christian life, written probably by the generation that followed the apostles. In the Didache, it states in the eighth chapter: “Do not fast like the hypocrites on Mondays and Thursdays, you (Christians) are to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.” (1) “The hypocrites” was a reference to the Pharisees to make clear the difference they professed in the full Christian faith. But the point is that Wednesday and Friday fasting was the earliest fasting routine of the Church.

In accounts of the history of the early Christian martyrs, we know that the martyrs were often granted a final meal before their death and that frequently, if the final meal was offered on Wednesday or Friday, they refused it because these were days of Christian fast. Other early Christians fasted until three o’clock, the hour of the Passion. So we see that Wednesday and Friday are not new fast days but are, in fact, the oldest traditional days of penance in the Church.

Why is Friday the principal day of Christian penance? For the simple reason that Friday is the day of the Passion, the day Our Lord takes the Cross and pays the price of our redemption. In fact, in Canon Law (I don’t mean just in the old Code, but in the 1983 New Code), it states Christians are obliged to do some form of penance on Friday, and it is interesting to note that many countries in the Catholic world still observe meatless Fridays. What happened in the United States and some other countries was that the National Conference of Bishops allowed us to substitute something else as a penance if we didn’t want to observe meatless Fridays. But we are still obliged to give up something or do some act of penance on Friday. How many Catholics in America do you now that have substituted some other penance on Fridays in the place of giving up meat? The majority of people have just let the practice of Friday fasting die. It’s a bit inappropriate for us to say we follow the Man with the Cross on his shoulder unless we have at least a sliver on our own shoulder, and the foremost day on which we show our discipleship of penance is Friday.

What’s the significance of fasting on Wednesday’s? This is not as clear historically. It might have been the day of the betrayal of Judas, but we do not have historical certainty. Traditionally, Wednesday has been a day attributed to devotion to St. Joseph, foster father of Jesus and foster father to the members of Jesus’ Body as well. In any event these are the two Christian days of fast, and if we notice in Church today, the two liturgical days where Christian fasting is mandatory are on Wednesday and Friday with Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

So, Our Lady at Medjugorje is in no sense calling us to something new with the Wednesday and Friday fast. On the contrary, she is calling us to return to the more committed ascetical practices as observed in the early Church. One of the great beauties of the early Church was that there was no division between “spirituality” and the daily routine of living. It was one and the same thing. You lived the Christian life whether you were praying or feeding your children or working, or you simply were not living the Christian life. There was no notion of “spirituality” detached from any event of the day, and in that more committed ascetical practice, fasting on Wednesday and Friday was the basic penitential practice. So it’s important for us to understand that the Medjugorje call to fast is in no sense new, but rather a return to a profoundly rooted practice of the ancient Catholic Church.

Condensed in a single expression our Mother is calling us to a generous fasting with the heart. We see this in a 1984 message:


Dear Children! Today I call you to begin fasting with the heart. There are many people who are fasting, but only because everyone is fasting. It is a custom that no one wants to stop. I ask the parish to fast out of gratitude because God has allowed me to stay this long in this parish. Dear children, fast and pray with the heart (September 20, 1984).


What does the Blessed Virgin mean by the expression “fasting with the heart?” Again, I think it is similar to what St. Teresa said about prayer. To have true prayer we need at least two things, attention and devotion. Attention means that we know whom we are addressing and conversing with in the prayer; and secondly, devotion means that we are talking to the person with love. I think both these things should be seen in the practice of fasting as well. First of all, we’re fasting as a sacrifice directed to God through the intercession of the Blessed Mother, and secondly, the intention of the fast is a sacrificial act of love for God. It’s a fasting from the heart. It does not necessarily gain merit for ourselves, for the Body of Christ, or for the holy souls in Purgatory, if we are reducing our food intake on Wednesdays and Fridays for the intention of losing those unwanted pounds we’ve been carrying around for the last couple of years! Yes, we’re denying ourselves food hut we’re not fasting from the heart with the proper intention, and as the Blessed Mother has also said, we shouldn’t fast just because we’re surrounded by others who fast (although there are not too many regions of the world where this would be a problem).

I think it’s fair to say that fasting with attention and devotion means a fast out of love for God and humanity at the beckoning of the Virgin. As St. Peter says, we are to offer spiritual sacrifices to the Father in the proper exercise of our priesthood of the laity. Father Slavko Barbaric has referred to fasting as “prayer through the body.”

Nature and Fruits of Fasting

Let’s examine the nature of fasting and again, the positive dimension of fasting. In general, Christian penance is any form of physical or spiritual self-denial for the good of Christ, for the good of the Church and for our personal purification. Fasting is a major constituent of penance. So, normally fasting is going to mean some type of physical denial in terms of food and drink. Although, as we’ll see in the message, the Blessed Mother also calls us to fast in ways other than just food and drink, including the areas of pleasure, personal preference, etc. But fundamentally it’s a denial of food and drink.

Let us look at a quote of St. Augustine from a sermon on fasting that well summarizes the positive fruits, the rich positive effects of fasting:


Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, kindles the true light of chastity… Fasting loves not many words, deems wealth superfluous, scorns pride, commends humility, helps man perceive what is frail and paltry. (2)


That is a penetrating summary of the fruits of fasting. I would like to discuss under three categories the sublime fruits of fasting.

A New Self-Mastery of the Body

Fist of all, we say that fasting offers us a new self-mastery concerning the body. St. Thomas Aquinas said that fasting is the “guardian of chastity.” He specifically talks ahout fasting in assisting to remove lustful desires or the vice of impurity, In the positive context, we could say that fasting strengthens the Christian virtue of temperance. It grants us a new self-control in regards to chastity. This is a little known or presently discussed fruit in fasting.

Fasting has a direct effect on Christian temperance. Christian temperance is self-control regarding “taste” and “touch” with the help of God’s grace. Taste deals with the domain of food and drink. Touch generally refers to the area of sexuality. Self-control in the area of sexuality is what we call “chastity.” An interesting point that some theologians have made, and I think rightfully so, is that the more temperance we gain in the area of food and drink, the more temperance we gain in the area of sexuality, because temperance is the overall self-mastery concerning both these aspects of the body. Hence, a self-control with food and drink, something greatly assisted by the disciplined practice of fasting, can have a further positive effect in the self-control needed for Christian chastity.

I think especially in our own age, Christian chastity has likewise been given a negative connotation. This negative idea that chastity is “not fun” has tragically been accepted by many adolescents, by the middle aged, and even by some elderly. It’s simply no fun to be chaste. Quite the contrary, it’s no fun not to be chaste. It’s no fun to be without the self-control needed to show love to another by respecting him in person and in body and to be without the physical control to respect your loved one both by what you do and by what you refrain from doing.

In the book Love and Responsibility written by Pope John Paul II long before he became pope, he discusses what he calls the “true meaning of chastity.” Chastity, he says, is not just a long list of “nos”; chastity is one great “yes” of which many “nos” are the consequence. The “yes” is to the truth that I am too valuable a person as an image of God Himself to be used by anyone else as a means to an end. I’m too valuable to be used as a sexual object. And that’s a “yes.” Because that’s a “yes” there are some “nos” that I have to say to protect that “yes.” I have to say “no” to pre-marital sex. I have to say “no” to adultery. I have to say “no” to homosexuality, to self-abuse, to contraception, to all the areas of sexuality that do harm to the dignity and the sanctification of the person. That’s the yes and no of Christian chastity.

So, fasting is one of the greatest helps in acquiring and sustaining the virtue of chastity, that self-mastery of the body. Fr. Rupcic, a Franciscan priest from the area of Medjugorje, has said the following about fasting:


It (fasting) is a simple means which allows man to show, to strengthen, and to stabilize his self-control. Fasting is the guarantee of his surrender to God in time and sincere faith. As long as man is not yet master of himself (of his senses), he will be unable to place himself completely in the hands of God. (3)


And this quote by Fr. Slavko Barbaric bespeaks the true freedom that comes from fasting. He says:


It (fasting) is a process by which we become free from and independent of all material things. And as we free ourselves from things outside of ourselves, we also free ourselves from the passions within us that are keeping our interior life in chains. This new freedom will make room in our body for new values. Therefore, fasting liberates us from a certain bondage and sets us free to enjoy happiness… By fasting we detach our heart from the things that tie us to the affairs of this world. Fasting will lead us to a new freedom of heart and mind. (4)


So we see that chastity, one fruit of fasting, is a freedom. It’s a greater freedom because it presupposes that the body is obedient to the mind and heart and not the other way around.

A Greater Raising of the Mind and Soul in Prayer

The second great fruit of fasting is contained in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, when he says that fasting “allows the mind to rise more freely to the contemplation of heavenly things.” In other words, we could say that fasting allows for a new detachment of the soul from material things which allows for the soaring of the soul to God in prayer. The reason fasting can allow a greater soaring to God is because it confirms a detachment from the material order. We find this example many times in the Old Testament where the prophets fasted to prepare to receive the wisdom of God. The prophet Daniel fasted for three weeks until he received the wisdom and understanding that he asked for from God (Dan 9). Fasting, we could say, tunes the spiritual antenna in the process of prayer to hearing and receiving God’s word. I think in our own experience we can see that when we fast, the little things that often nag us, the little things that often seem so important, don’t seem so important, don’t seem nearly as important because we’re hungry. This can lead to a greater experience of detachment from the world, an awareness of the lesser importance of the material order and the primacy of the spiritual order

It is also true that we pray better when we fast, and we fast better when we pray. It’s much more difficult to fast on a day when we’re starving from lack of prayer. Prayer assists the process of fasting and it focuses the fasting on why we fast. It lifts the mind to God and the soul to God through the body.

Offering for the Remission of Sin

The third fruit of fasting comes through an offering of fasting for the remission of sin. There are at least two major effects of this valuable spiritual gift offered to God. It’s a spiritual sacrifice. We know it’s a spiritual sacrifice because it is a concrete sacrifice very close to the heart. There’s no question that we are imitating in a concrete way Christ who fasted for forty days.

First of all, we speak of this effect of fasting in terms of ourselves, our own body. Fasting has the ability to offer reparation for our own sins, and we know just as we receive a penance after we receive the sacrament of Confession, there is still a justice factor to sin that calls for atonement even after the eternal punishment for sin has been forgiven. This is the notion of temporal punishment as held by the Church from the earliest times. There is great wisdom in seeing the remaining need for atoning for sin after the eternal punishment and guilt of sin has been removed, because free human acts will always retain an element of personal responsibility. This remaining justice factor to sin calls for our humble reparation, and fasting is one of the best forms of reparation we can offer to remit temporal punishment. In this sense our fasting is a precious and purifying spiritual sacrifice.

Further, fasting is a tremendous sacrifice for the Body of Christ, the Church. This applies in several ways. First of all, our spiritual sacrifice of fasting cleanses us as members of the Body. As we mentioned before, the Church is a church of sinners. We all sin, and because we sin we need the Church. Because we sin, we need purification for the Body. This is where fasting can cleanse the Mystical Body as a whole.

Fasting also helps the Mystical Body by offering sacrifices for the holy souls in Purgatory. The reality of Purgatory is very strong in the Medjugorje message. In some past interviews, it has become known that Vicka took on voluntary suffering for an extended period of time with the explicit intention of offering these sizable sufferings as a sacrifice for the souls in Purgatory who had no one else to pray for them. This happened after Our Lady granted the visionaries some type of vision or experience (similar, but not identical to what took place at Fatima with the vision of Hell) of the three after-life states, which included Purgatory. We know that no one goes from Purgatory to Hell; it is rather a process of continued purification in preparation for the eternal glory of Heaven.

The Blessed Mother evidently stressed to the visionaries the importance of family members praying for their deceased by name for special assistance and special consolation as they go through the final purification in Purgatory. C.S. Lewis said of Purgatory (although he himself was not a Catholic) that it was like washing your hands before the Eternal Banquet. The host would like you to do it and you would like to do it as well, even if some pain is involved. So, there is a need of sacrifices for the holy souls in Purgatory, and fasting here again can have a tremendous spiritual effect.

Moreover, the offering of fasting can allow people to enter the Mystical Body, to enter the fullness of the Catholic Faith. Remember that Our Lady has said many times in Medjugorje (and throughout this Marian Age) that she needs these sacrifices. These sacrifices of fasting can assist in healing the sad divisions among Christians and lead us to Christian unity in the one Catholic fullness. The value of fasting can likewise be used by Our Lady to bring non-Christians into the one Church of Christ. For Our Lady is never an obstacle to true ecumenism; she is rather the Mother of Ecumenism, leading her scattered children back to the one true Body.

Our Lady is the intercessor that offers these sacrifices to God through the one Mediator, her Son Jesus. When she receives these sacrifices from us then she acts as a Mediatrix (a secondary and subordinate sharer in the one Mediation of Jesus) and thus assists in releasing the graces of redemption that Christ has already merited. Our Lady’s role as Mediatrix of all Graces has been referred to several times at Medjugorje and has been part of ordinary magisterial teaching since Pope Pius IX in the mid-nineteenth century. Pope John Paul II referred to her as the “Mediatrix of Mercy,” especially in preparation for the second coming of Christ. So, she needs our sacrifices and she applies it to the Body in the various ways we’ve discussed. Again, fasting brings forth priceless spiritual effects for ourselves and for the Mystical Body.

We have been talking about the profound spiritual fruits of fasting, but it’s interesting to note that many people today are fasting for non-religious reasons. They fast for the physical fruits—the natural purification of the toxins in the body produced by fasting. People are fasting strictly from one day a week, to a full week fast, and sometimes even longer, doing so only for the sake of the physical benefit to the body. Obviously this is not the primary goal in Medjugorje, but at the same time there is the added benefit of proper stewardship of the body through fasting. So, in summary, fasting leads to a growing self-mastery, it leads to a freeing of the soul for greater prayer and, thirdly, to the remission of sin through a true and concrete spiritual sacrifice we offer through the Body.

Personal Incorporation

This is where we really get down to the fundamentals about personally incorporating what Our Lady is calling for in terms of fasting. Who is called to fast? In the message of Medjugorje, as confirmed by the visionaries and confirmed by the priests at St. James Parish, the call to fast is for everyone. The call of fasting is a call in virtue of our Baptism. This is confirmed in the words of Pope Paul VI in his document on fasting and abstinence where he says, “Every Christian by divine law is obliged to do penance.” (5) Fasting should be an ordinary part of the Christian life.

Fasting has become particularly difficult in the Western World, not to the credit of the Western World. We are in an era where they way to be self-fulfilled or self-actualized is tragically misunderstood as self-indulgence. But as we know that the Christian mystery is that in order to self-fulfill, we must self-deny. You can’t be perfected as a person without the process of taking up the cross of self-denial. So, all are called to fast, albeit in different degrees. This includes the young, the middle-aged, the elderly, and even to some degree the sick, although they’re not necessarily to fast physically.

Let me cite the words of Marija in June 1990 with regards to fasting and the sick: “For those too sick to fast physically, they are to offer their suffering with joy and to fast from alcohol, smoking, or to renounce television” (June 26, 1990). So the Blessed Mother is the wise pastor and the spiritual director who safeguards our Christian vocation, while at the same time she’s saying all can sacrifice something. And in discussing the many options in types of fasting no one can say, ‘I can’t give up anything” on Wednesdays and Fridays in response to our Mother’s beckoning. The prudential question is, “What do I give up?” The answer to this question has to be decided according to our state in life. All cannot fast in the same way because of the great diversity in our situations and states in life, but the call to fast is a universal call that all have the ability to respond to in some degree.

Let us look at some different ways of incorporating the Medjugorje call to fast in our lives. I want to begin with what the Blessed Virgin has identified as the “best” fast, the fast on bread and water. Now, in many cases, we must gradually attain this goal. In most cases, fasting on bread and water as a two day a week fast is something which should be implemented gradually, particularly for those who have not had any experience in fasting. Some people have been able to incorporate it immediately, but that is usually not the norm. If fasting is a new experience, then a staggered increase could be more effective. The consistent practice of fasting is one area, in my opinion, where Catholics are behind our separated brethren in Christ, particularly our fundamentalist brethren. Catholics in the last twenty-five years have not been true to the universal Catholic tradition of fasting and, hence, have been bereft of its fruits in our contemporary era.

The “Best Fast”

Although the bread and water fast is not for all, it is nonetheless a realistic and attainable goal for many, especially when we’re talking about single adults and young adults, as verified by the fasting practice of Medjugorje. The bulk of the Wednesday and Friday bread and water fasting has been sustained by single people, anywhere from the ages of late adolescence to people in their early thirties. This age group seems to have given the greatest response in generosity to the call of fasting. But I’m not saying that it’s exclusive to those ages either. So although the full bread and water fast is not for everyone, it remains an attainable goal for many throughout the world. Many others can, at least to some degree, put into practice the bread and water fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.

What’s the particular beauty of the bread and water fast? Why does Our Lady call it the best fast? I think its beauty is firstly revealed in the symbolism of bread and water. Bread is symbolic of the Eucharist and also of our dependence on God, like the manna in the desert in the Old Testament. Water is symbolic of purification and life, the kind we receive in Baptism. So, in a sense, the bread and water reflect the sacramental life of the Church that comes from the very side of Jesus Christ at Calvary, the waters of Baptism and the Blood of the Eucharist. So, in a real sense, for those who are capable, it’s like saying, “Today, I live on You alone Lord. Today You are my Bread and You are my Life.” This is particularly true when we join the bread and water fast to Our Lady’s invitation of daily receiving the Eucharist as “the gift of the day for the Faithful.” This thought is well-captured in this pithy statement by Father Slavko Barbaric: “By being too attached to the contents of our plate, we run the risk of losing sight of our primary nourishment in which God offers Himself in ‘a very special way.'”

We would further have to say that in terms of generosity of sacrifice, obviously the bread and water fast is the greatest objective sacrifice and thereby the greatest objective spiritual value. It is then little wonder why the Virgin refers to the bread and water fast as the “best fast.”

A few notes about the bread and water fast from the medical side. These come from Dr. Henri Joyeux, a French doctor and researcher from the University of Montpelier, who has been a principal investigator both medically and scientifically of the visionaries and of the concurring phenomena at Medjugorje. He has medically suggested the following points regarding a consistent bread and water fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. In general, he states that anyone can in a healthy way undertake the bread and water fast who is past the age of puberty and in fundamentally sound health. He makes a cautionary note for the elderly, suggesting that they might want to consult their physician first. But he asserts that this fast is not something that generally threatens sound health.

Secondly, he affirms that those who fast on bread and water should drink plenty of water, and he suggests a quart and a half of water intake a day. Our tendency when we fast is to stop drinking, but on the contrary, if anything, we should increase our water or our fluid intake.

Thirdly, Dr. Joyeux advises fasting on a type of whole wheat or hearty type bread. If you notice in Medjugorje the bread they fast on is hearty. I tried to interrogate them for the recipe and to steal the secret the last time I was over there but to no avail! The homemaker I spoke with said it must just be their hearty type of wheat. Even so, Joyeux does suggest using a more robust, more nourishing form of bread than just a bleached white bread, which is much less nutritious and, thereby, has less sustaining value.

Fourthly, he strongly cautions against pregnant women and nursing mothers doing any type of strict fasting. Here again is where we humble ourselves to our vocation first. Our God-given vocation is our fundamental channel for working out our salvation. These again are simply medical suggestions, but I think they possess sound common sense regarding the best fast.

Modified Forms of Fasting

The best fast put aside now, what are other modified ways of incorporating the fast on Wednesdays and Fridays? One helpful modification is the practice of adding some fruit to the bread and water fast. This is particularly helpful to anyone who has trouble with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). While the water can keep the body fluids going and a hearty bread can keep up the nutrition, the fruit, which supplies fructose, keeps the sugar going to the brain. So, the addition of fruit or fruit juices can be very helpful.

Another possibility is to add some type of Lenten foods like vegetable soup, a lentil soup, or some other type of meatless soup at some point in the day that can supplement fasting. Another alternative is to eat only one meal on a fast day. This was also a practice in the early Church. St. Thomas Aquinas discussed this type of fasting, commenting, that he thought the most appropriate time to eat that meal was at three o’clock in honor of the Passion, symbolic of suffering with Christ until that hour when his Passion was consummated. So, reducing to a meal a day on Wednesday or Friday is another way to fast.

A further practical option is to fast on bread and water until three o’clock in the afternoon and then when duties and responsibilities tire us, we can continue the rest of the day fasting only from meat and treats. This type of partial fasting provides for some experience in the bread and water fast, but then when the duties of our state in life begin to wear us down, like the Psalmist says, “The evening flower that withers and fades,” we eat. Yet another good example of a modified fast is the fasting practice that the Church prescribes on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. This constitutes a fast of one full meatless meal and two other meatless meals that together don’t equal the full meal. This balanced approach to a modified fast allows for a true sacrifice, but one which will rarely take away from our abilities to perform the duties in our state in life.

At earlier stages of fasting, different ways of beginning a routine of fasting could be anything from skipping one meal a day, to reducing the quantities of food consumed in all our meals, to fasting from meat and sweets on these two days in order to begin the good habit of fasting. Also, we can practice a more general fasting from things like cigarettes, alcohol, any area of specific pleasure, or even things like gossip, and speaking about other people’s shortcomings. But I think it’s clear in the message that where possible there should be some denial of food and drink because this is the essence of true fasting. Where a physical fast is not possible, as Marija mentioned regarding the sick, then there is always something else that we can fast from.

I remember giving a Medjugorje talk back in 1985 in San Francisco, and a woman who had to be in her late eighties or early nineties was trying to make her way up to the podium. She was handicapped and she could not climb the stairs to the podium, so I jumped off the podium and said, “Ma’am, did you have a question or something I could help you with?” And she responded: “I just wanted to ask you, do you think it’s okay if I fast on bread and milk instead of bread and water?” Here was a poor elderly woman who could barely reach the podium, and in the very spirit of the widow’s mite, asked if she could substitute milk for water. What humility and generosity.

What form of fasting should you personally incorporate? In one message, the Blessed Mother told us, “You all know what you can do.” She is basically saying that it is up to our own prayerful and generous discernment. We all know what we can do. We also know what we can’t do. Sometimes this will change as the circumstances of our lives change. But we can all fast to some degree and we should give the benefit of the doubt to generosity. We can always adjust down if we’ve sought to be too generous.

The spirit and consistency of fasting are important, but so too is the actual physical sacrifice. Fr. Laurentin in a penetrating comment on fasting discusses the proper relationship between the spirit of fasting and its foundation in physical self-denial:


It is the spirit of the fast which matters, but one should not say that only the spirit matters. Our prayer and our spiritual experience reside in a body. They follow the body’s rhythms and are dependent upon it. Depriving the body can awake the hunger of the soul. (6)


So, while it is true that the proper spirit of fasting is essential, there is something likewise central about the denial of body to which all, excepting the sick and special cases, are called.

Family Incorporation

We’ve considered the general call, we’ve looked at the personal fruits, now we’ll examine fasting for the family (and of course, the personal and the family incorporations are going to overlap to some degree). When we’re talking about fasting as families, we have to go back to the first chapter and exercise the three principles on how and to what degree we are able to incorporate this message as families: prudence according to our state in life; committed consistency but with flexibility; and generosity.

To what extent can children fast? Fr. Slavko refers to the call to fast as a universal call, including children to some degree (depending of course on age). St. Thomas Aquinas in his treatment of fasting observes that children are not bound to the obligatory fasts of the Church because of their natural weaknesses, their need for nourishment owing to their rate of growth and their need to eat frequently and in smaller quantities (facts to which most mothers will readily attest—those constant little meals and little snacks!). So, the wisdom of the Church says children are not obliged to Church fasts, but St. Thomas also says it is important for children to begin to practice some fasting according to their age. I think what he’s referring to is the need to instill in the minds and the hearts of our children the idea that Wednesday and Friday are days of sacrifice for Jesus and His Body. Our children should get the notion as they grow in the school of domestic spiritual formation that Wednesday and Friday are days that we give up something for Christ and for the Church.

Age will obviously play a major factor in what our children can prudentially and safely give up. Whereas it is possible for an older adolescent to try a bread and water (or bread and milk) fast or some other modified fasting options that we have discussed, this would not, in my opinion, be prudent for young children. And yet, as we shall now discuss, even very young children can make little sacrifices on these days as part of an overall family fasting effort. As children get older and especially as they enter later adolescence, there’s a possibility of a greater and more committed fast. There should be a growing generosity with the growth in age. When they get the notion very early that Wednesday and Friday are days of sacrifice it only helps that gradual growth in generosity.

Practical Suggestions for Family Fasting

I’m going to suggest some specific areas, some possibilities where families can fast together (and in normal situations, the parents will of course be able to be more generous than the children). What are the areas in which we can start fasting as entire families on Wednesdays and Fridays?

First of all, let’s begin with fasting from sweets—the “treatless” Wednesday and Friday. Again, it conveys the notion to our children that we have a spiritual and a social responsibility to the rest of the Body of Christ and on these days we offer up the candy or dessert. This is a good beginning of fasting for children (and in some cases adults as well), and it’s something people of all ages can sacrifice.

Another family possibility is fasting from meat. This can have the positive dimension of bringing fish back into the diet. Fish is not only very good nutritionally but it has a beautiful Christian symbolism. In the early days of Christianity, especially during the persecutions, when you walked up to someone you thought might be a Christian (and remember, if you made a mistake it meant your own martyrdom), you made a curved line in the dirt. If they were Christians, they took a stick or their own finger and made another curved line, touching your line at the beginning and crossing it at the end, which formed the image of the fish. That was the sign that you had met a member of the Body of Christ. The fish was a symbol of Christ, a symbol of the death and the resurrection into which we’re incorporated by the waters of Baptism. But apart from the sign value of fish, the meatless Wednesdays and Fridays do not hurt us nutritionally nor does it necessarily hurt the performance of our state in life, but it is a sacrifice. Sometimes it is the greatest sacrifice for Mom, who has the additional challenge of planning the meatless meal twice a week. But that in itself can be part of the offering, and without jeopardizing the nutritional needs of our children, it constitutes a legitimate family fasting.

An area of family fasting that I strongly suggest, and one possible for every family, is a family fast from television on Wednesdays and Fridays. In one of the Lenten messages of 1986, the Blessed Mother said: “Turn off the television and renounce other things that are useless” (February 13, 1986).

It must be said that, for the most part, the television shows watched by families certainly fall under the category of “the useless”! We are not saying that television is intrinsically evil but the vast majority of contemporary television programs are not only useless but directly harmful to family life and the proper faith atmosphere of the domestic Church. When television is renounced on these days and evenings, we can begin the fascinating new experience of talking with the members of our family; we can share, read, play a family game together, and even pray together. It’s an incredible new possibility. And to return to a previous comment: this is one of the greatest ages of “technological distraction” in the home. From morning to night, we can be distracted by some technological device: the walkman, stereo, Nintendo, television, radio, video player, etc. This is a danger unique to our age, and so we’ve got to be more sensitized to it. We must beware of being the passive receptors of electronic things that do not necessarily enhance our spiritual life. It is true that the first couple of nights of this television fast may seem endlessly long because we have grown so accustomed to being entertained, but it can be a tremendously fruitful change in the long run.

I also think that for parents it would be a rather frightening notion to face God at the end of our lives and to have to say to Him that the reason we didn’t have any real quality time together as a family was because we, as a family, were watching impure evening “soap operas” or violent police shows or some of the other television shows that in no way respect or assist the sanctification of the domestic Church. So, I think fasting from television is a universal way by which most every family can begin the process of sacrifice on Wednesdays and Fridays.

And just in passing, to note a form of parental fasting that should be recognized as a legitimate spiritual offering is the oftentimes involuntary “fasting from sleep.” This is especially true when we’re talking about having infants or small children. This is a pure penance. When you’re getting up two and three times a night, that is a valuable spiritual penance that should be offered to Jesus through Mary.

What makes an involuntary penance a valuable spiritual sacrifice, as opposed to what can become an occasion of sin, is how we respond to the intention of our will. If, as we get up the second or third time to change or feed the baby, we patiently endure this suffering and say, “I offer this for the glory of God and the conversion of sinners, for the holy souls in Purgatory, and the end of the scourge of abortion, or for the child who’s having a difficult time” or for any other intention, then it becomes a real and valuable spiritual sacrifice. It’s an important sacrifice to offer, because sometimes this fasting from sleep can limit you from being more generous during that following day in your usual Wednesday and Friday sacrifice. So, don’t hesitate to offer the fasting from sleep, a fairly regular form of fast especially with newborns and little ones.

One note on the flip side of this family fasting: It is important to have a balanced Christian approach in the family, so if you’re going to sacrifice as a family, you had also better make sure to celebrate as a family. We as families should especially celebrate the liturgical year of the Church. Again, this takes time and it’s got to be incorporated to the extent that it can be.

To celebrate the great feast days, to really celebrate Sundays and Holy Days, is an important balancing factor in family spirituality. Incorporate the children in these celebrations. Stop the usual protocol and have a cake on the great feasts, the feast of the Ascension, on the Immaculate Conception, on All Saints Day. Have an All Saints Day party. Let the children dress up as saints and celebrate. We should do this, lest we give them an unbalanced notion of the Christian life. It’s like the Rosary, three sets of Mysteries for the Joyful, Luminous and Glorious and one set for the Sorrowful. We don’t want to give the notion to our children that the Christian life is only sorrowful, all fast and no feast, that there’s only a Passion for Death but there’s never a Resurrection.

Contrariwise, sometimes when there’s an absence of fasting or penance, we could be giving them the idea that we are just people of the Resurrection, and not people of the Passion and Death, and that’s equally dangerous. So, the balance should be in celebrating as a family the liturgical feasts as well as proper balance in family fasting.

As a final pastoral note regarding fasting and the family, remember that fasting is a means to holiness. Fasting is not an end in itself. Fasting is a means of sanctifying our families, and we have to avoid the danger of making fasting the goal instead of union of our families with Jesus Christ as the goal. I think, for this reason if for no other, that Our Lord’s great parable in Luke 18 of the Pharisee and the tax collector should be read and meditated on by any follower of Medjugorje. You remember the occasion when the Pharisee and the tax collector go to the Temple and the Pharisee states how he fasts twice a week and thanks God that he is not like the tax collector. The tax collector prays rather for God’s forgiveness as a sinner. The scriptural passage ends with the words: “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Lk 18:14).

I think this can he a valuable caution to the possible self-righteousness and pride that can come from fasting. It can become an occasion to look down on those who are not fasting even though, first of all, we have no ability to judge the heart, and secondly, we have no idea of the conditions as to why a certain individual may not be fasting. So we must strive to keep the proper humility that is part of an authentic Christian fasting from the heart.

We must further avoid the notion of fasting in the context of what I call the desire for a “spiritual trophy case.” This is where our goal is to be able to boast fasting many days on bread and water. I confess in my own case, especially in our early years regarding the Medjugorje fast, while living in Rome, that in the beginning months, fasting became for me to some degree an end it itself. The most important thing of the day was not my family responsibilities, but it was making it through the day on bread and water. This was true to such a point that at least on two occasions I remember telling my wife, “Beth, I’m going to bed because I’m so tired from the fasting. You take care of the children for the rest of the evening.” So instead of eating a little something to get me through the evening hours and tend to my first responsibility as a Christian husband, and father, I deserted my vocation for the sake of the fast. This was a classic example of disordered fasting, because the fasting hindered my God-given vocation in life rather than leading to its sanctification. Fasting became the end, and my family responsibilities the means, instead of the other way around. This is inordinate: to see fasting as the spiritual trophy rather than a means of domestic sanctification.

Fasting is a means and it’s got to be seen always in terms of sanctifying of our vocation. For those who feel called to a bread and water fast or a fast that continues into the later hours of the evening, it may be more prudent to eat a little something to sustain you in your family vocation. This is true especially when children are around, and you begin to become irritable or even to launch out in anger at the children. In this case, all you may be doing by fasting is offering reparation for your own newly committed sin against patience, and consequently there can be little net spiritual effect. So, the prayerful discernment of parents together, through the sacramentality of marriage, will grant the necessary family balance in this area of fasting in the family, combining the virtues of prudence, consistency, and generosity.


Of all that we have discussed in terms of implementing the Gospa’s call to fast, the most important practical element is that in some small, humble way we as families actually begin to fast. We must prayerfully discern how, on this next Wednesday or Friday, we can begin to say “yes” to Our Lady’s request of fasting as families. In some regards, I think it’s even more important to get the entire family fasting consistently in a more modified manner than to have just one family member fasting more strictly. In this way we begin the virtue, the disposition of the will, in all our family members, to sacrifice for Jesus and for His Body through Mary, Mother of the Mystical Body. When we do this with a humble start, and perhaps with a more generous goal eventually in mind, then we can have the peace of knowing that we as a family are contributing to God’s whole plan being fulfilled at Medjugorje, a plan with a consequence that will touch the nature and fiber of life throughout the entire world.

This article was excerpted from Medjugorje and the Family: Helping Families to Live the Message, recently re-printed by Queenship Publishing in 2005.


(1) Didache 8:1.

(2) Sermons on Fasting, II, II, n. 147.

(3) Fasting, p. 24.

(4) Fasting, p. 19.

(5) Apostolic Constitution on Fast and Abstinence, 1966, p. 11.

(6) Learning from Medjugorje, p. 78, emphasis added.