My dear Reverend Fathers, Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
Since I assumed the office of Archbishop of Singapore, I have shared with you my 10-year vision for the Archdiocese and for our people. I have spoken many times on the urgency of the New Evangelisation, which is a call to all Catholics to renew their faith and to share the Good News about Jesus Christ with ardour, as visible witnesses of His love, in every sphere of society, working in communion and using approaches that are relevant.
Together, we must put a halt to hostile secularism (which is against religion) and the development of an individualistic, materialistic and relativistic society. These dismantle the foundation of society (i.e. the institutions of marriage and family) by disregarding the universal values of human rights that are based on truth and love.
The key to counter these onslaughts is to proclaim the Good News about Jesus, who is the Truth, the Way and the Life. Catholics need to be re-evangelised, so that they can share the Good News of truth and love joyfully with those who do not know Christ. This does not mean that we are out to convert everyone but through the sharing of our faith and good works, we want to offer Jesus as a gift to humanity, so that all can find hope, direction, meaning and purpose in life.
But the New Evangelisation is not merely just work and less still, human projects. We must not be under the illusion that everything can be achieved by our own pastoral planning and efforts. We must not forget the primacy of grace. Prayer is our concrete expression in the primacy of grace so that all success and glory will be given to God and not to us.
Devout and fervent intercessory prayer (both individual and communal) is the key to the New Evangelisation and is therefore absolutely necessary. It is needed for the conversion of hearts, beginning with ourselves first, and then others. Prayer is a powerful weapon against the temptations of the Evil One. Intense prayer also opens us to receive God’s love, mercy and truth. Life changes when we are enlightened and see everything from the perspective of Christ.
Hence, in view of the urgency of the New Evangelisation in combating the evils of today, I have exhorted all Catholics to pray daily – for me, my fellow priests and all Religious. In addition, I have also issued a pastoral letter inviting all those working in Catholic Organisations to make time to pray at work and in the office, using either the Liturgy of the Hours or to undertake faith-sharing based on the scriptures.
In my pastoral visits to the parishes, I have also reminded Church ministries not to be too function-orientated. Members and volunteers should not only be present to fulfil service duties but also to pray as a community and in small groups regularly (if possible weekly).
Building on these, I wish to go a step further and be as daring as Abraham when he interceded to God for the people of Sodom (Gn 18:16-32). I would like to invite you to fast with me, for the success of the New Evangelisation for Singapore. Effective prayer must be accompanied by fasting. We learn this from Jesus, our model in Evangelisation, by observing how He prepared for His ministry – He entered the desert and fasted for forty days.
Following this, He, “filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee” (Lk 4:14). Indeed, the power of Jesus to preach and to heal came from the anointing of the Holy Spirit which is given through prayer and fasting. He also told the disciples who were not able to cure the epileptic boy, “this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting” (Mt 17:21).
Prayer and fasting are hence not an option for Christians, for Jesus said, “When you pray … and when you fast …” (Mt 6:5, 16) and not “if you want to pray or fast”. For this reason, in the early Church, the apostles and the early Christians continued to pray and fast for the success of their mission. “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” (Act 13:2,3).
Fasting and prayer remove the obstacles to our mission, especially those influenced by the Evil One and give answers to our prayers. We see this call to fasting being observed by the saints and especially the Blessed Virgin Mary, in all her apparitions where she urges us to pray and fast for conversion.
What are the benefits of fasting? Fasting is good for the soul and body. It keeps us disciplined, especially with regard to our sensual needs and the temptations of the flesh. It frees us from sin and keeps us pure in our relationship with God and our fellowmen. It opens us to the grace of the Holy Spirit because it increases the desire in us for God. It provides the disposition for prayer and helps us to feel God’s presence throughout the day as we recall His love and mercy for us through Christ’s passion on the cross.
By contemplating on the Lord’s suffering and uniting ours with His, we can better identify with those who suffer through illness or injustice. This moves us to compassion and generosity. Fasting also enables us to listen more attentively and to be more docile in obedience to the Word of God. Thus, based on God’s holy will, we begin to discern better our direction in life. For only when we are weak, can we become strong in the Lord, so that He can accomplish His will in us (2 Cor 12:9-10).
Fasting is therefore the soul of prayer and the answer to our prayers because it shows our sincerity in asking for what we want from the Lord. To a priest who complained about the indifference of the people in his parish, St John Vianney, the Cure d‘Ars replied, “You have preached, you have prayed but have you fasted?”
In order to ensure that our motive is focused, we will pray weekly, for a particular intention of the Archdiocese, pertaining to the work of the New Evangelisation. This will be published on our website and in the CatholicNews.
However, we must be careful not to allow fasting to be reduced to a routine or worse still, to be done for less noble motives like losing weight, saving money, or to lead us to spiritual pride and self-righteousness. Indeed, if fasting does not make us more humble and more charitable towards our fellowmen, we can be sure we are not fasting the way that the Lord is asking of us. In the final analysis, fasting bears no fruits unless it is watered by mercy and charity.
Indeed, Isaiah 58:4-9 tells us that God is not pleased with ritualistic fasting that does not bear fruit in charity for our neighbour. Such fasting will not make our prayers heard.
“Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, here I am.”
Fasting therefore is only a means to an end. We must not reduce our fasting to a mere ritual or even a human discipline. Fasting from food should open our hearts to God and move us to conversion. More importantly, we are called to fast from our sins – especially the capital sins of pride and arrogance, envy and jealousy, anger and unforgiveness, sloth and irresponsibility, gluttony and the destruction of one’s body and soul through lust, pornography, greed and hoarding.
How and when are we to fast? I would like to propose a corporate fast on bread and water every Friday. You can also choose to observe a canonical fast (two half meals and one full meal) or even a full fast, if your health is not compromised. For those who are unable to observe it on Friday, you may wish to substitute with another weekday.
However, it would be better to fast and pray on the designated Friday, in solidarity with the whole archdiocese.
Fasting together is also easier as we are weak and fall easily into laxity, indulgence and sin. Hence if we fast together, we can encourage and support each other. Solemnities, Sundays, Christmas, Easter Octave and special celebrations are however exceptions, for we recognise the need to rejoice in these celebrations as Jesus instructed – that as long as the bridegroom is with us, we do not fast. (Mt 9:15)
What can we do on the day of fast? You may use your lunch or dinner time to have individual prayer and adoration or participate in the Eucharistic celebration. Pray together in the office or at home and share the Bread of Life i.e. the Word of God. The physical hunger will be made much easier when accompanied by Christian fellowship of love and a prayerful sharing of the Word of God. When we are physically hungry, let us fill ourselves with divine food in the form of the Eucharist and the scriptures, together in Christian fellowship.
In conclusion, I urge all of you – priests, Religious and laity – to fast with me at least once a week, on Friday, in the spirit of the Gospel. Let us invite our family, friends and colleagues to join us in prayer and fasting, constantly encouraging and reminding one another not only of the day of fasting but more importantly, the reason behind our commitment.
When we start praying and fasting, we will see the anointing of the Lord in all we do. The Lord will unleash His power in us through the Holy Spirit and marvellous blessings will be given to all. We will see conversions taking place, change of hearts and minds, peace and joy, unity and love at home, in the office and in our communities. We will become a joyful people and indeed bring the Gospel of Joy to all we meet.
As the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church, the sacrifices we make move beyond this lifetime to our children and future generations as we leave a legacy in kingdom building for the Church in Singapore. Let us therefore contribute to the work of the New Evangelisation for Singapore through our commitment to prayer and fasting. With faith in the power of God and through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of the New Evangelisation, we can build a vibrant Church for Singapore. Ut Vivant!
Yours fraternally in the Lord
Archbishop William Goh