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Friday after Ash Wednesday

March 3, 2006

Blessed St. Katharine Drexel’s Day! (look for her story in the “Saints of Lent” category)

Today’s readings:
Isaiah 58:1-9 (fasting is supposed to make us holy)
Psalm 51: 3-19 “A broken, humbled heart, O God, You will not scorn”
+Matthew 9:14-15 (there is a time to fast)

We’ve been talking a lot about the benefits of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, almost as if they were foolproof means to holiness. Today God humbles us by pointing out that we goof these up too. When we ask, “Why do we fast, and You do not see it? afflict ourselves and You take no note of it?”, God replies that it doesn’t do any good for us to fast if we miss the whole point of the fast. He’s not trying to make us miserable. He’s trying to make us holy. He’s trying to train us in the self-sacrificial love that is the native culture of Heaven. But our hunger has made us ornery; even more selfish than we were to begin with. This is not the fasting God desires. Like any suffering, fasting can make us better or bitter. It can turn us inward on ourselves in self-pity or it can turn us outward to a world in need of compassion. We need to turn our physical hunger into generosity toward those who have no food, toward those who hunger for love, for justice, for mercy. When we suffer, it’s a great comfort to know that others know how we feel. Their experience of suffering has trained them to support us in our need. Likewise, our fasting can train us to support others in their need, if we let God use it.

Fasting can also help us put things in proper perspective. We can become blasé about the sacrifices we unthinkingly impose upon others through our sins. When we put top priority on getting what we want, we don’t notice that others suffer deprivation as a result of our “gain”. Fasting is meant to give us a taste of their suffering, to sensitize us to their pain so that we won’t be so quick to inflict it on them again, and so we’ll be motivated to remedy the injustices we’ve already caused. We will set free the oppressed, share our bread with the hungry and clothe the naked. We will remove from our midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech, as God asks (see Isaiah 58:6-9). We will begin to live up to our identity as creatures made in the image an likeness of a God who died on a cross to set us free.

May our fasting lead us and those around us to Heaven.

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