Friday, February 20, 2015

Fasting, Prayer, and What's the Other Thing?

It's a problem. Whenever I think about what to do for Lent or preach about fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, I easily come up with long lists of possible ways to fast or to pray.  There are a million things to sacrifice, a ton of ways to fast, and a zillion possible ways to add to the life of prayer.  But, that whole almsgiving thing . . . .  So many of the suggestions out there seem cheesy. You know what I mean.  "Change your light bulbs to the energy efficient type." I'm not saying that's a bad idea.  I'm just saying that it's not exactly what I really need.  Sure I can give money--which is important--but even donating until it hurts seems like it happens and then it's done.  (But . . . I should still give money!)

Today's reading from the Prophet Isaiah is tough.  It gets to the heart of the matter.  It literally gets to the heart.  These prophets had it tough!  God commands Isaiah to go tell the people of their wickedness.  And, God doesn't say, "Go and try to persuade my people that they really ought to try harder."  He says, "Cry out full-throated and unsparingly."  God means business!

And what exactly seems to be the problem?  The Lord says that on these fast days, "you carry out your own pursuits."  It's as though the people are doing all of the external things, but these things are not changing their hearts.  They are concerned about appearing to be fasting, but they are completely blind to the suffering of those around them.  Surrounding them are the hungry, the oppressed, the homeless, the naked, and those bound unjustly.  Those who are fasting have reduced their actions merely to external appearances.

Our fasting, works of penance, and prayer are only acceptable if they open our hearts and our eyes to those in need.  Today, we will all encounter persons who are in need.  The question is whether we will see them or not?  Will we recognize their need and be moved to alleviate their suffering?  Fasting and prayer are vital to the Christian life, but only if they open our hearts and eyes.  Today is D-Day Plus Two (Ash Wednesday Plus Two). It is already a good moment to step back and ask ourselves about Lent: Will I carry out my own pursuits today or will I do the work of the Kingdom?

May our fasting and prayer today not lead us toward a stagnant, self-congratulatory satisfaction with the appearance of a good fast day.  Instead--by the grace of Christ--may our eyes and hearts recognize the material and spiritual needs of others and respond in kind.


This afternoon the BU Catholic Center leaves for a retreat weekend.  Our retreat director is Mr. Michael Lavigne, the Director of Lifelong Formation and Parish Support for the Archdiocese of Boston.  Please pray for him, for the students, and for the staff.  These retreats are primarily organized and run by the students, and they've been working for months putting it all together.  May the Lord touch all of our hearts so that we might proclaim Him with our lives.

No comments:

Post a Comment