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Friday after Ash Wednesday

February 27, 2009

Blessed Friday!

There’s a prayer that has special significance for Fridays of Lent. Praying this before a crucifix on a Lenten Friday (with the usual conditions of Holy Communion the same day, Sacramental Confession within a week before or after, prayers for the pope’s intentions–at least an “Our Father” and “Hail Mary”–and no attachment to sin), makes one eligible for a plenary indulgence (i.e., to have the Church open Her treasury of graces to pay all the debts you’ve incurred, that you would otherwise pay in Purgatory):

Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus,
while before Your Face I humbly kneel;
and with burning soul, pray and beseech You to fix deep in my heart
lively sentiments of Faith, Hope and Charity,
true contrition for all my sins and a firm purpose of amendment;
while I contemplate with great love and tender pity Your five wounds,
calling to mind the words which David, Your prophet, said of You, my Jesus:
“They have pierced My hands and My feet, they have numbered all My bones!”

Father, with Your loving care
guide the penance we have begun.
Help us to persevere with love and sincerity.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen. (Opening prayer from today’s Mass)

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)

“What’s wrong?!”

“Why do we fast, and You do not see it?
afflict ourselves, and You take no notice?”

We’ve figured out that something’s wrong. We’re even trying to do something about it. But it’s not working. It’s all well and good to realize that there is a problem, but until we get an accurate diagnosis and prescription, our efforts at a solution are just a waste of good energy.

God’s only too happy to answer our question. Our problem is self-centeredness, expressed in treating God and other people as objects for our pleasure. Fasting can indeed help with that, but only if it’s applied more to the heart than to the body. It’s as though we’ve gotten a perfectly good cough syrup, but are trying to slather it on our arm as an ointment. Fasting is not meant to make us proud of ourselves, even more apt to look down on others and treat them with contempt (“your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw”).

That’s what’s wrong.

Once we realize that, the remedy isn’t so hard to see.

“A broken, humbled heart, O God, You will not spurn” (Psalm 51:19)

God’s trying to teach us to fast with our hearts, to give up our death-grip on the things that feed our disease. He’s looking for the kind of self-sacrificial love frees us to get out of ourselves, so that we can meet others’ needs. He’s looking for the kind of fasting that upholds the dignity of every person, setting free the oppressed, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.

“Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall be quickly healed;
your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard”
(Isaiah 58:8)

Now that’s more like it!

May God guide us to the fasting that heals.

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