Antoinette Kaiser, Hudson, takes a selfie with her morning coffee. Kaiser, a middle school youth minister at St. Patrick’s Parish, initiated a Lenten experience following the Fiat 40 program of prayer and asceticism. (Submitted photo)
Catholic Herald Staff
One program that has sought to answer women’s need to draw closer to God is Fiat 90, with an adapted version for Lent, Fiat 40.
With an emphasis on prayer, sisterhood and self-discipline, the Fiat programs are akin to Exodus 90, a 90-day program designed exclusively for men.
Antoinette Kaiser, a parishioner and youth minister at St. Patrick’s Church in Hudson, was invited to do the 90-day version by a college friend whose sister had learned about Fiat 90 through Badger Catholic at UW-Madison.
Starting in June 2020 and following the program through the summer, Kaiser admitted it was “very difficult.”
“The hardest thing I find,” she said, “is that we’re a go-go-go culture.”
She wanted to fulfill the challenging abnegation – which included prohibitions on drinking alcohol, making major purchases, eating sweets, drinking soda, watching television alone, participating in social media and more – but it was “very hard to put life on hold” when friends want to go out for drinks, connect via social media and might not understand turning down the special dessert one made for a gathering.
The stipulations have deterred many – in single, married and motherhood stages of life – from doing the program.
That was how Kaiser landed on the 40-day commitment and invited other women in her area to join her. Her Facebook invitation received definite interest, but even for 40 days, some women just weren’t sure it was something they could faithfully fulfill. To do it over, she says she would reach out with more time to share and explain the “retreat,” as many call it.
Though small, the group that joined in Fiat 40 for the duration of Lent was comprised of women at different stages of life, which proved enriching for all.
One of those women was fellow parishioner and mom of seven, Katie Waldal.
Waldal was familiar with Exodus 90, as her husband was invited to participate by family friend, Fr. Patrick McConnell. Due to a medical condition, he had not joined because some of the asceticism requirements would have been unhealthy for him. At the same time, Waldal noted they both already incorporate many of the prayer and self-denial practices into their daily lives.
When she looked at the list of commitments Kaiser presented, Waldal’s response was, “Gosh, I do a lot of these already.”
She was able to take the Fiat 40 commitments and integrate them into her daily routine and find ways to add to it. For example, she usually attends the St. Patrick’s School weekday Mass with her children, who are students there, but in addition was able to watch livestreamed Masses from home.
She would listen to Fr. McConnell’s daily Scripture reflections which often were overheard by her children as they were getting ready in the mornings.
Waldal added a wallpaper of Pope Francis’ suggestions on fasting (see insert) as her lock screen to reflect on sitting with her toddler daughter or waiting to pick up another child from an extracurricular activity.
While she was fine with staying off of social media for personal use, Waldal didn’t completely go off Facebook. She coordinates the Ladies of Grace Facebook page as a ministry to women of the parish – a study and reflection group that focuses on socializing with other women of faith, prayer, reflection and study of the Bible – which has been active exclusively online during the coronavirus pandemic.
Without sharing her own personal journey or commentaries, Waldal utilized the Ladies of Grace page to build herself up spiritually and invigorate the other women of the group. She shared tools helpful for her own Fiat 40 commitment that could also benefit others during their Lenten journey.
“As a community,” Waldal asserted, “we want to build each other up.”
Both Waldal and Kaiser noted that having a tangible sense of community among the Fiat 40 group was a challenge.
However, for Waldal, “Because I was sharing posts to the Ladies of Grace page, there were other women watching and benefitting from what we were doing.”
With mature and sincere discernment, Waldal admitted her biggest struggle with the program was consistency, given the fluid and dynamic reality of family life. That said, she was able to stay focused on the spirit of the program, not fall into scrupulosity, and maintain the bigger picture of what her family was exposed to and able to receive through her efforts.
Through her clear sense that discipleship and evangelization is “always supposed to be starting at home,” she was able to draw her family in to her more intense Lenten journey, especially as a continuation of the “extended Lent” of the COVID pandemic.
“Really hard, but really worth it,” was how Waldal described both her Fiat 40 experience and summarized the fruitfulness she has seen from the restrictions COVID-19 necessitated.
“The pandemic itself opened our eyes to a whole different peace in life that we were missing and not appreciating,” Waldal said. “We were too busy.”
Early on into the lockdown, she felt she could breathe like she hadn’t in a while.
“I wasn’t as anxious about coming and going and changing schedules. It allowed our family opportunities to pray and come together in a whole new way.”
She drew a parallel with Fiat 40 – “What these programs are designed to do is expose a person to more good things and remove more of what separates us from God. COVID has done that in so many ways, if we’ve been attentive and open.
“The whole idea is that you’re’ building a habit,” she said. “Your prayer life is deeper, and your other focuses in life are different … I look at the things we do on a daily basis, and it’s not about how grandiose it is,” Waldal reflected. “It’s about the little things that are making a difference, the little commitments we are consistent with.
“If we try to bite off more than we can chew it’s overwhelming, but if we take it piece by piece, it’s more manageable and we can balance it out better,” she added.
Kaiser’s conclusion from her Fiat 40 experience echoed Waldal’s.
She admitted that during the Lenten period, she had difficulty in talking down to herself if she wasn’t “the best that you can be.”
“I came to recognize that I was not really focused on Jesus’ sacrifice,” Kaiser said. “I was just viewing Lent as a time of church ‘extras.’
“Doing Fiat 40 really opened my eyes to see that additional sacrifices are necessary to understand Jesus’. The whole point of the Fiat 40 is to really make you take a step back in how you approach your Lent and the understanding of Jesus’ sacrifice,” she added. “That was something that really hit me hard this Lent.”
Pressing into that awareness, Kaiser was able to be “hit with joy” on Easter morning. At the 7 a.m. Mass, she was struck by the realization that all the sacrifices and prayer she had taken on during Lent “was nothing compared to what he just did.”
It brought her to feel a burden lifted – struggling to find accurate words, Kaiser said she experienced great joy without denying the hardships and burdens.
“It was so challenging and really hard,” Kaiser admitted, referring to the Fiat 90/40 commitments. “I never thought that I could add those things into my life. But what I think a lot of people can recognize and receive from this is this understanding that adding little things into your spiritual journey is very possible.”
The experiences have opened her eyes to how very possible it is “to add little things into your spiritual journey, even into your daily life.”
To learn more about Fiat 40, visit fiat40.weebly.com.
Pope Francis’ Suggestions for Fasting Fast from hurting words and say kind words. Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude. Fast from anger and be filled with patience. Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope. Fast from worries and trust in God. Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity. Fast from pressures and be prayerful. Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy.
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