Saturday after Ash Wednesday
We continue reflecting on Isaiah’s discourse on selfless fasting, the behavioral abstinence that allows us not only to reach out in love and compassion to our afflicted, oppressed, and needy sisters and brothers, but also to please God who wants us to live in communion with one another and thus "delight in the Lord." But, because self-centeredness is a common human tendency, even at a divine-human-relationship level, we often fail to reach out to others and please God in our fasting. For we either disregard or manipulate God’s commandment, that is, to "love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27). That is why we end up pulling away from each other, feeling lonely and guilty before God, and crying out with the Psalmist: "Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth."
As I reflected on today’s thought-provoking readings, the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi came to mind, for I suddenly began to pray: "O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love." I indeed pray to God that we all be capable of reaching out in love and compassion to one another, for it is worse to be incapable to loving than not to be loved. In other words, the incapacity to love is synonymous with the incapacity to respond to our God-given vocation, because we are made in the image of God who is love, which means that we are meant to love God and one another.
In today’s gospel, once again Jesus fulfills the Law and the prophets, especially as it is stipulated in Isaiah’s teaching on selfless fasting. By calling Levi, the tax-collector, and sharing a meal with "a large crowd" of his kind, Jesus not only infuriates the judgmental, self-righteous Pharisees and scribes, but also tells them their incapacity to reach out in love and compassion to sinners. For they show themselves, as many of us can do, incapable of removing "oppression, false accusation and malicious speech" from their midst, as well as of bestowing "your bread on the hungry" and satisfying "the afflicted." It is for the latter group, the unloved, the outcast, and the oppressed of our world, that Jesus came to die and rise as "light in the darkness." For they show themselves needed of and open to God’s love and mercy. Hence, let us pose and reflect on the meaning and value of selfless fasting, and ask ourselves how capable we are of pleasing God as we strive to reach out in love and compassion to others.
Fr. Alfredo Ocampo, C.P. gives retreats and parish missions. He is stationed at Holy Name Passionist Community in Houston, Texas.