Friday, March 8, 2019

Prayer, mercy and fasting: These three are one, and they give life to each other. Fasting is the soul of prayer; mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing.

So if you pray, fast; if fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give. - St. Peter Chrysologus: (80 – 450: was Bishop of Ravenna from about 433 until his death. He is known as the “Doctor of Homilies”)

Scripture Text: (IS 58:1-9A)
Thus says the Lord GOD:
Cry out full-throated and unsparingly,
lift up your voice like a trumpet blast;
Tell my people their wickedness,
and the house of Jacob their sins.
They seek me day after day,
and desire to know my ways,
Like a nation that has done what is just
and not abandoned the law of their God;
They ask me to declare what is due them,
pleased to gain access to God.
"Why do we fast, and you do not see it?
afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?"

Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,
and drive all your laborers.
Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting,
striking with wicked claw.
Would that today you might fast
so as to make your voice heard on high!
Is this the manner of fasting I wish,
of keeping a day of penance:
That a man bow his head like a reed
and lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
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.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!

In the reading’s from today’s Mass God is trying to make clear what the purpose of fasting (or, in fact, any type of penance) is. On the surface, when we fast we are imitating Christ, who fasted for forty days in the desert. Whenever we carry out works of penance by denying something we want, we are imitating Christ who denied his own life for our sake.

But on a deeper level, through our penance we are clearing out our souls. We are clearing out of our soul those desires which serve only ourselves. The more and more we remove these desires, the more room there is in our soul for the desires of God, the fruit of which are the works that He wants to accomplish within us and through us.

Lent is about preparing our souls to accept the Cross of Christ in our own lives. When we seek to follow in the footsteps of Christ, we ourselves are led to Calvary, where with Mary and the apostle John we gaze upon our God who died for us. At the foot of the cross we learn humility and gratitude for the sacrifice Christ made on the Cross for us.

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