First Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-9a
1 Cry, cease not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their wicked doings, and the house of Jacob their sins.
2 For they seek me from day to day, sad desire to know my ways, as a nation that hath done justice, and hath not forsaken the judgment of their God: they ask of me the judgments of justice: they are willing to approach to God.
3 Why have we fasted, and thou hast not regarded: have we humbled our souls, and thou hast not taken notice? Behold in the day of your fast your own will is found, and you exact of all your debtors.
4 Behold you fast for debates and strife. and strike with the fist wickedly. Do not fast as you have done until this day, to make your cry to be heard on high.
5 Is this such a fast as I have chosen: for a man to afflict his soul for a day? is this it, to wind his head about like a circle, and to spread sackcloth and ashes? wilt thou call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 Is not this rather the fast that I have chosen? loose the bands of wickedness, undo the bundles that oppress, let them that are broken go free, and break asunder every burden.
7 Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and the homeless into thy house: when thou shalt see one naked, cover him, and despise not thy own flesh.
8 Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall speedily arise, and thy justice shall go before thy face, and the glory of the Lord shall gather thee up.
9 Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall hear: thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou wilt take away the chain out of the midst of thee, and cease to stretch out the finger, and to speak that which profit not.
With Ash Wednesday behind us, many of us are focusing on our Lenten endeavors. Re-evaluating the game plan… as it were… This year there seems to be a resurgence in the importance of fasting and doing without eating many of things we take for granted on a regular basis. I guess it appeals to those who have always been able to satisfy their every whim. Anyway, I happen to know several young people who seem to be pushing the fasting portion of our Lenten practices to an extreme. For an example, many will be drinking only water, not eating meat, or eggs or cheese and they will be forgoing all snacking between meals in addition to giving up sweets. Some have lists that are so long, they just seem to run on and on. Now all of this is wonderful, up to a point. We have got to remember that not only is Lent a time for renewed repentance, it is also a time of fervently seeking God. Remember, there are three things, three pillars, that the Church has given us to help us during Lent….Prayer, fasting and alms giving… and they go hand in hand.
As I wrote on Ash Wednesday, there is more to beginning Lent than just getting your ashes, and there is more to these days of Lent than just fasting. We should be using these three pillars of Lenten practices as a formula to help us live a good Lent. Each one of theses pillars will help us to grow closer to the Lord. If we focus too much on the fasting, it turns it into a mere action done in place of seeking out a deeper relationship with the Lord. We need to realize how important prayer is. When we pray we have a special opportunity to grow in our relationship with God. In the busy of the world, prayer helps us to pause and reflect on what we need to do to grow in virtue and holiness.
Alms giving, the most often neglected pillar is actually a combination of the other two pillars. It combines the sacrifice of fasting with the nature of prayer, since when we give to those in need, it is as if we are giving to God. It is a sacrificial offering, because unlike fasting, we are giving away something which we feel already belongs to us. Many of us don’t have hoards of wealth and to freely give away what we do have, hurts… It can cause us worry, but this is another reason why it is so important. Not only does it offer charity to others, but it causes us to trust in God and detach from earthly things.
These days of Lent should be for us a time to grow in a deeper and more meaningful relationship with the Lord. We should be striving to live in a way so that our lives become a reflection of Christ. Not only are we called to see Christ in everyone we meet… we are called to be Christ to everyone we meet. We are to be a living reflection of His tender mercy. Our prayers, our fasting and our alms giving will help us with this momentous task. They should be for us a means of becoming less…so that Christ can become more.
It is well to note that doing virtuous actions cannot replace our relationship with God. We can’t earn our way into heaven by forgoing the candy and the sweets, or by giving away our excess wealth for the admiration of men, but what we can do, is learn by these actions a means of tempering our passions and our pride so that on that fateful day of our death, the good Lord will find us worthy of a place in heaven. God bless, my friends.