As we begin our Lenten season and are urged to fast, pray and do penance in preparation for the great feast of Easter, we are invited to think about how we go about our fast over these next 40 days. If we take the Lenten fast seriously, our first impulse might be to cut down on food and drink. Then we might think about cutting down on entertainment. Then, if we get really serious, we might begin to think about curbing our temper, our quick judgment of others, or even our sharp criticisms. All ways of fasting from behaviors that we know are not of God.
All these efforts are admirable but, as our first reading from Isaiah insists so clearly, they only scratch the surface and are just a beginning!! Isaiah reminds us that the purpose of fasting, indeed all acts of penance, is to open our hearts to the needs of others.
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
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.
Surely the focus of our prayer during this challenging season is to ask God to transform our hearts, make us attentive and responsive to the people around us so that we will be ready to receive the overwhelming love of God that is offered us over these next few weeks.
Fr. Michael Higgins, C.P. is the director of Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.