While on vacation in the papal summer residence last August, Pope Benedict XVI had an impromptu meeting with a group of visiting priests. He wanted to know what concerns and questions they had. One of them had to do with the decline of Catholic practice in Europe. If there had been American priests in the group, the same concern would have been for our country. The Pope responded by saying that the Church is alive. To avoid discouragement, we have to review history. The Church faced a number of threats: persecutions, heresies, Muslim invasions, Marxism, and Hitler. Yet, the Catholic faith, not only survived but flourished. The Holy Father said: "We have 2,000 years of Church history, with so many sufferings, including many failures.... on the other hand we see how the Church has revived after so many crises with a new youth, with new freshness." He also noted that vocations are flourishing in Africa. The Church is growing in various places in the world.
The Pope stressed the necessity of prayer to this gathering of priests: It is not a time that is taken away from our pastoral responsibility, as it is precisely pastoral work to pray, to pray also for others … substituting others who perhaps do not know how to pray, who do not want to pray, or who do not find time to pray." Prayer and fasting certainly are the most effective means of winning hearts to our Lord. This is not only for priests but for all of us. We can do this in Church and also in our homes. St. Theresa, the Little Flower, is a patroness of the missions. Why? She never left her Carmelite monastery in Lisieux, France. Her prayers and sacrifices were power behind so many missionary endeavors.
We too can help our world to turn to God. Daily prayer and some fast for this purpose would indeed be the work of love. Fasting can mean giving up, on a particular day, some kind of food that we like or it can mean refraining from doing something that we would like to do on some other day. We also can be evangelizers by our charity, cheerfulness and kindness. Hopefully, each of our lives can be a textbook for others to learn what it means to be Catholic.