This is the Fasting That I Wish
Friday after Ash Wednesday
The Season of Lent invites us to repentance and conversion. This internal disposition is accompanied by external expressions: fasting and abstinence. Holy Mother Church, teacher as she is, helps us enter into the spirit by creating an ambiance of coming back to the Lord. During the Ash Wednesday liturgy we are invited to fast and abstain. The next time that we will be fasting and abstaining will be on Good Friday. In all the Fridays of Lent we are also encouraged to do abstinence. But what is fasting? What is abstinence? How do we, Christians, look at these external Lenten practices of penance?
Lent is that season, approximately 40 days when we prepare ourselves for a proper observance of the Lord’s suffering, death, and resurrection. In the Opening Prayer of the Ash Wednesday liturgy, the spirit of Lent is summarized, “Lord, protect us in our struggle against evil. As we begin the discipline of Lent, make this season holy by our self-denial.” In the Prayer over the Gifts we pray, “Lord, help us to resist temptation by our Lenten works of charity and penance.”
The external practices of fasting and abstinence are clearly explained by the prophet Isaiah: “This is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke, sharing 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.” Our fasting and abstinence then is a denial of our self in order to focus more on God who invites us to look upon our brothers and sisters in great need.
Lent is not a time for torture, as one bishop said, but a time for charity to blossom. Our Lord Jesus asked his disciples to fast during the time when he will be away from them. They learn from Him the ways of fasting which leads to charity. When He indeed left them, the disciples fasted and lived out their lives in charity.
May we learn more from our Lord in this Lenten season. He has not been indifferent to the needs of the people of His time. His life was lived in charity with God as its source. May we be strengthened and encouraged more by His example. Our self-denial should lead us to focus on God and to serving in charity our brothers and sisters. Are we willing then to fast and abstain for God and for others?
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