Friday February 15, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Friday after Ash Wednesday
Reading (Isaiah 58:1-9a) Gospel (St. Matthew 9:14-15)
The Lord's answer in the Gospel reading, when John's disciples ask why Our Lord's disciples do not fast while they and the Pharisees do, is: "As long as the Groom is with them, how can the others fast?" But then He says, "As soon as the Groom is taken from them, then they will fast." It helps us, then, to put into the proper context the reason for some of our fasting. That is, we are mourning the loss of the Bridegroom; He has gone and now we are praying, we are fasting, we are looking at our own sinfulness, at our own shortcomings and we are trying to make up for them. Certainly, we can fast as we pray for the conversion of somebody; we can fast as we desire to strip ourselves of various attachments and try to mortify the desires of the flesh. But, primarily, the reason is that when we see our sinfulness we want to make reparation for what it is that we have done.
When we look, then, at the first reading that the Church gives to us along with this Gospel, we see the kind of fasting God wants. It is not just a matter of sitting there, feeling a little bit hungry, and doing nothing. But rather, the Lord says, "If you are going to deny yourself, if you are going to afflict yourself a little bit, make yourself suffer, then what you need to do is align yourself with those who are suffering." You need to understand their suffering, and then you need to look at any area where you might be causing suffering in another person's life. That becomes the place where the fruit of your fast must be seen. And so, the Lord tells us that it is doing things such as "untying the thongs of the yoke and releasing those bound unjustly, 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." That is the kind of fast the Lord wants. That is, when we afflict our own selves, then we are going to be able to recognize the suffering that somebody else is enduring. And when we feel that suffering, even just slightly, it should move our hearts with greater compassion to then take that desire to remove the suffering from someone else.
In this Lenten season, now, when we unite ourselves particularly with the suffering of Our Lord, when we ponder the Cross, when we ponder the Passion, we need to try to accept a share of that in our own lives and to recognize that the purpose for which He went to the Cross was to remove the oppression of sin in our lives. So as we share in His suffering, we also want to share in His work. And that is to remove the oppression, to remove any kind of bondage that might be there in the lives of others, to pray for those who are poor or hungry or sick or suffering in whatever way, and in a particular way to look at the areas where we might be causing some of that in someone else's life and to make sure, then, that we change ourselves and that the fruit of the suffering in our lives is going to result in greater charity towards others.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.