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10 Quotes from the Holy Fathers on Prayer and Fasting

On October 28, the faithful around the world will be celebrating the International Day of Prayer and Fasting. As we prepare our hearts for this observance, we invite you to meditate on 10 quotes from the Holy Fathers on these spiritual disciplines and how they bring us closer to the Lord.

Pope Benedict XVI prays in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel during his visit to the Basilica
Pope Benedict XVI prays in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel during his visit to the Basilica

How to Pray

“Like the Apostles, [people] want to know how to pray. The response that Jesus gives is one known to all of us: it is the ‘Our Father,’ in which he reveals in a few simple words all the essentials of prayer. The focus IS not primarily on ourselves, but on the heavenly Father to whom we commit our lives in faith and trust. Our first concern must be his name, his kingdom, his will. Only then do we ask for our daily bread, for forgiveness, and for deliverance from trials yet to come.” — from Pope John Paul II’s Greeting to the Faithful in Miami on September 10, 1987

“To pray means speaking to God—I would venture to say even more—to pray means finding oneself again in that One eternal Word through which the Father speaks, and which speaks to the Father. This Word became flesh, so that it would be easier for us to find ourselves again in him even with our human word of prayer.” — from Pope John Paul II’s message on March 14, 1979

“In a beautiful passage, St. Augustine defines prayer as the expression of desire and affirms that God responds by moving our hearts toward him. On our part we must purify our desires and our hopes to welcome the sweetness of God… Let us pray, therefore, that we can follow the example of this great convert every day of our lives, and in every moment of our life encounter the Lord Jesus, the only One who saves us, purifies us and gives us true joy, true life.” — from Pope Benedict XVI’s message on February 27, 2008

Why We Should Pray

“The monk Evagrius Ponticus states: ‘We have not been commanded to work, to keep watch and to fast continually’ — no, this is not demanded — ‘but it has been laid down that we are to pray without ceasing’… There is therefore an ardour in the Christian life, which must never fail. It is a little like that sacred fire that was kept in the ancient temples, that burned without interruption and that the priests had the task of keeping alive. So too must there be a sacred fire in us, which burns continuously and which nothing can extinguish. And it is not easy, but it must be so.” — from Pope Francis’ message on June 9, 2021

“Prayer unites men with God and makes them brothers.” — from Pope John Paul II’s message on November 19, 1978

“Prayer is the breath of faith; it is its most proper expression. Like a cry that issues from the heart of those who believe and entrust themselves to God.” — from Pope Francis’ message, May 6, 2020

“What a spectacle for heaven and earth is not the Church in prayer! For centuries without interruption, from midnight to midnight, is repeated on earth the divine psalmody of the inspired canticles; there is no hour of the day that is not hallowed by its special liturgy; there is no stage of life that has not its part in the thanksgiving, praise, supplication, and reparation in common use by the mystical body of Christ, which is the Church. Thus, prayer of itself assures the presence of God among men, according to the promise of the divine Redeemer: ‘Where there are two or three gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them.’” — Pius XI, Caritate Christi Compulsi

Pope John Paul II kneels in prayer at the Basilica
Pope John Paul II kneels in prayer at the Basilica

Why We Should Fast

“Fasting expresses sorrow for a serious misfortune, but also the intention of taking a certain responsibility by confessing our sins and being resolved to turn our hearts and actions to greater justice toward God and neighbour. By fasting, we acknowledge with confident humility that true personal and social renewal can only come from God, on whom we are all totally dependent. Beyond false forms of pietism or manipulative assistance, fasting makes it possible to share our daily bread with those who are without.” — From Pope John Paul II’s message on December 9, 2001

“The faithful practice of fasting contributes, moreover, to conferring unity to the whole person, body and soul, helping to avoid sin and grow in intimacy with the Lord. Saint Augustine, who knew all too well his own negative impulses, defining them as ‘twisted and tangled knottiness,’ writes: ‘I will certainly impose privation, but it is so that he will forgive me, to be pleasing in his eyes, that I may enjoy his delightfulness.’ Denying material food, which nourishes our body, nurtures an interior disposition to listen to Christ and be fed by His saving word.” — From Pope Benedict XVI’s message on December 11, 2009

“[Fasting is] a penitential practice that calls for a more profound spiritual effort, the conversion of the heart, with the firm decision to turn away from evil and sin, to be better disposed to fulfil the will of God. With physical fasting, and, even more so with interior fasting, the Christian prepares himself to follow Christ and to be his faithful witness in every circumstance. Moreover, fasting helps us to understand better the difficulties and sufferings of so many of our brothers and sisters who are oppressed by hunger, severe poverty, and war. In addition, it prompts us to a concrete solidarity and sharing with those who are in need.” — From Pope John Paul II’s message on March 2, 2003

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