The Three Pillars of Lent: Prayer, Fasting, & Mercy


There are three things, my brethren, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains

constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at

the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three

are one, and they give life to each other.

Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to

separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all

together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want

your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to

others you open God’s ear to yourself.

When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are

hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look

for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give. If you ask for yourself

what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery.

Let this be the pattern for all men when they practice mercy: show mercy to others

in the same way, with the same generosity, with the same promptness, as you want

others to show mercy to you. Therefore, let prayer, mercy and fasting be one single

plea to God on our behalf, one speech in our defence, a threefold united prayer in

our favor.

Let us use fasting to make up for what we have lost by despising others. Let us offer

our souls in sacrifice by means of fasting. There is nothing more pleasing that we

can offer to God, as the psalmist said in prophecy: A sacrifice to God is a broken

spirit; God does not despise a bruised and humbled heart.

Offer your soul to God, make him an oblation of your fasting, so that your soul may

be a pure offering, a holy sacrifice, a living victim, remaining your own and at the

same time made over to God. Whoever fails to give this to God will not be excused,

for if you are to give him yourself you are never without the means of giving.

To make these acceptable, mercy must be added. Fasting bears no fruit unless it is

watered by mercy. Fasting dries up when mercy dries up. Mercy is to fasting as rain

is to earth. However much you may cultivate your heart, clear the soil of your

nature, root out vices, sow virtues, if you do not release the springs of mercy, your

fasting will bear no fruit.

When you fast, if your mercy is thin your harvest will be thin; when you fast, what

you pour out in mercy overflows into your barn. Therefore, do not lose by saving,

but gather in by scattering. Give to the poor, and you give to yourself. You will not

be allowed to keep what you have refused to give to others.

St. Peter Chrysologus was the bishop of Ravenna, Italy in the middle of the 5th

century. His sermons were so inspiring that he was given the title “Chrysologus”

(Greek for “Golden-worded) and was eventually declared a “Doctor of the Church.”

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