Friday March 3, 2006

Reading (Isaiah 58:1-9a) Gospel (St. Matthew 9:14-15)

Our Lord tells us in the Gospel reading today that when the bridegroom is taken away then the wedding guests will fast. Well, if this is the case, we can certainly say that Our Lord has been taken. Consequently, we are called, in this holy season especially, to fast and to pray. Now the Lord makes very clear through the prophet Isaiah what kind of fast He is looking for. He says, Is this the kind of fast I wish? That you cover yourselves with sackcloth and sit in the ashes? This, rather, is the kind of fast that I wish… He goes on to talk about all the points with regard to charity and justice, to make sure that we are setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke, sharing our bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked, not turning your back on your own, and so on. These are the kinds of things that He is looking for.

What we see, then, is that there are two different ways that we can deal with our fasting. For most of us, when we start to fast, if we are struggling with being hungry, we tend to get upset and angry. The Lord makes that very clear. He tells them, Your fasts end in quarreling and fighting, and striking with the wicked claw. That is not what He is looking for. When we do that, our fasting makes us turn into ourselves. But our fasting has to make us turn toward God, not toward ourselves. So the Lord is saying what He is looking for is that we get the focus off of ourselves.

The idea of fasting is self-denial, not self-indulgence. The fact that we are not indulging in food does not mean that we can indulge in all kinds of self-discovery internally, or all kinds of things with regard to the self. The Lord is looking for us to practice charity, charity toward Him and charity toward neighbor. If we are going to deny ourselves of something like food or some other point that we are fasting from, then that needs to be replaced with charity, not with another kind of selfishness. What good is self-denial if we replace it with self-indulgence? if we are practicing self pity? If we are giving into any form of selfishness, it completely defeats the purpose.

And so Our Lord is asking us to fast and to do penance. But that fasting and penance must help us get the focus off ourselves and put it where it belongs, in the places where He himself commands us: to love God and to love neighbor.


*  This text was transcribed from the audio recording with minimal editing.

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