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Friday after Ash Wednesday

March 11, 2011

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 moral (not monetary!) 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)

How can wedding guests go in mourning so long as the groom is with them?
-Matthew 9:15

This seems like an odd response to the question, “Why don’t Your disciples fast?”

What does fasting have to do with mourning? 
And what’s this wedding Jesus is talking about?

These are, in fact, keys to the first reading.

Why do we fast and You do not see it?
afflict ourselves and You take no note of it?
-Isaiah 58:3

Good question–one God answers rather directly.

Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,
and drive all your laborers.
Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw…
-Isaiah 58:3-4

That would explain a few things…

This, rather, is the fasting I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
-Isaiah 58: 6-7

The kind of fasting God has in mind isn’t really about food. 
It’s not a dietary hoop to jump through to get on God’s good side.

Fasting is about mourning–
about mourning the damage caused by sin enough to set things right,
to make reparation. 
If there were no sin, there would be no one bound unjustly,
no one hungry or oppressed, homeless or naked or abandoned.

But sin is very much a reality in our world. 
And although our personal sins may not be the direct cause of these evils,
still, our sin has caused suffering–that’s just the nature of sin–
and God gives us the privilege of cooperating with Him to set things right.

The Groom was indeed taken away from them,
taken to the cross to rescue His beloved Bride from the ravages of sin
(see Ephesians 5:25-27).

Then His disciples fasted.
They shared in His mourning over their sin.
They shared in the fast of Calvary…

But it didn’t end there.

Jesus had already promised:

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted
-Matthew 5:4

Mourning leads to joy, true fasting to blessing.

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.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer…
the Lord will guide you always and give you plenty even on the parched land.
He will renew your strength,
and you will be like a watered garden…
the ancient ruins will be rebuilt for your sake…
you shall delight in the Lord
-Isaiah 58:8-9, 11, 12

The fasting of Lent, properly done, relieves the suffering caused by sin–
in our own lives and in the lives of sufferers the world over. 
And according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
God’s stacked the deck in our favor!

in this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others,
well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others (paragraph 1475).

As we fast rightly, slaves go free, the hungry have their fill,
the impoverished and abandoned are sheltered and cared for. 
In short, we participate Jesus’ mission:

He has sent Me to bring glad tidings to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives
-Luke 4:18

This is the joy to which God calls us.
This is the wonder toward which we journey in this holy season of Lent.

May our fasting, united with Jesus’ sacrifice,
build the Kingdom of God here on earth
as we joyfully await its fulfillment in Heaven.

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