Scripture: Lectionary 222. Isaiah 59:1-9. Psalm 51: 3-4.5-6.18-19. Matthew 9:14-15:
In the Old Testament this expression is often used when a prophet speaks directly with the voice of God: “Thus says the Lord….” Isaiah often uses this phrase and then gives us God’s direct message. Today we have the words of God about true fasting—spiritual fasting—not just giving up something we like to eat, or drink, candy, etc. Those little acts of penance are far from the biblical idea of fasting presented so clearly in today’s first reading. We learn that we should release people from being bound unjustly, from our controlling of others in family, in church, etc.; we are to free the oppressed; feed the hungry and in our Catholic lesson from the Catechism to perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The corporal works of mercy are: to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit the imprisoned, to shelter the homeless, to visit the sick, to bury the dead. The spiritual works of mercy are: to admonish the sinner, to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to comfort the sorrowful, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive all injuries, to pray for the living and the dead. You may have heard of them from the Baltimore Catechism if you were old enough to have studied that tool. They are what Isaiah is telling us are the ways of fasting. Here is where we deepen our love for one another and build up the Body of Christ. Again, as we saw on Wednesday and Thursday the question of fasting is a community endeavor not a private devotion that is aimed at losing a few pounds!
Psalm 51 will haunt us during this season of Lent. It is one of the seven great penitential psalms and goes to the heart of the matter when it comes to our personal sins. It cuts through our hardness of heart and makes us realize we are capable of sin and do sin. The seven penitential psalms are excellent for our Lenten journey. They are Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 130, and 143. Above all of them is Psalm 51 our Psalm Response and some verses from what is known as the “Miserere” (Have mercy on me, O Lord).
Jesus makes it clear when we should fast. We do not fast during high festivals or a wedding, but we do focus on spiritual fasting during Lent. This is the proper time, this is the hour, as Paul tells us to awake and to relate to others through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. We do this in union with Jesus who is, during this season, on his way up to Jerusalem to take up the Cross and to lead us toward the Resurrection. Carpe Diem! Let us seize the season! Amen.
Copyright 2013 Fr. Bertrand Buby, S.M.