Friday, February 15, 2013

Fasting and penance

     Two days into Lent and our Collect prayer already expresses our need for perseverance.  It asks that the Lord show gracious favor on the works of penance that we have begun, "that we have strength to accomplish with sincerity the bodily observances we undertake."  It is somewhat like our "New Year's Resolutions".  How soon are we distracted from our resolve.  Our prayers are voiced this way because our Lenten resolve, our sacrifice and penance, are so much more important than some silly new year's resolutions.  This needs to be for us a life and death moment, a realization that without redirection in our lives, without an openness to the grace provided by God, without contrition for sin and desire for holiness, we are dead in the water and adrift (at best) or we are literally dead to God.  This is a life and death moment.  And Lent is a transforming, reconciling, resurrection moment of grace.

     In the reading from Isaiah (Is. 58: 1 - 9a) the Lord speaks again of what he desires in regard to fasting.  He says that on their fast days the people carry out their own interests, they overwork their laborers, they end up being testy and irritable.  They play the part, bowing the head, being covered with sackcloth and ashes, going through the motions, but it is empty and shallow.

     The Lord says that this is the fasting that he wishes: "releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every 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."
He says that then your light will shine and God will be glorified.

     These are spiritual days that call us to holiness and lead us to action.  To be holy means that we be involved.  We might call it the corporal works of mercy, or social justice, or building up the Body of Christ - but this desire for holiness demands involvement in every aspect of life so that the light of Christ and the message of his Gospel might guide and direct the actions of humanity and the working of nations.

     The Communion Antiphon today says: "O Lord, make me know your ways, teach me your paths."  A great request on this Lenten Friday.

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