Reflections

Friday After Ash Wednesday, February 19, 2021

THE FAST THAT DELIGHTS GOD
Introduction
People in the Old Testament ask: What is the use of fasting? God seems not to be near when they fast. The prophet tells them because real fasting consists in justice and love. Since God has made a covenant with his people, that covenant comprises also justice and love from one person to the other. In the gospel the disciples of John, who fasted, were asking the disciples of Jesus why these didn’t fast. In other parts of the gospel Jesus gives an answer similar to that of the prophet, but now Jesus said that because he has come and is with his disciples, they should rejoice rather than fast.
 
Opening Prayer
Lord of the Covenant,
we have not to fear your judgment
if like you we become rich in mercy
and full of compassion for our neighbour.
May we not only know that you ask us
but practice with sincere hearts
to share our food with the hungry
and to loosen the bonds of injustice,
that through us your light may shine
and your healing spread far and wide.
Be with us in your goodness.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen!
 
1 Reading: Isaiah 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!
 
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 51:3-4, 5-6AB, 18-19
R. (19b) A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
 
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me. R.
 
For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is before me always:
“Against you only have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight.” R.
 
For you are not pleased with sacrifices;
should I offer a burnt offering, you would not accept it.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn. R.
 
Gospel Acclamation: Amos 5:14
Glory and praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!
Seek good and not evil so that you may live,
and the Lord will be with you.
Glory and praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!
 
Gospel: Matthew 9:14-15
The disciples of John approached Jesus and said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
 
Commentary
When someone is referred to as a “practicing Catholic,” what is often meant is that she or he attends Mass regularly, has her or his sacramental practices in order, and keeps the Lenten and other seasonal observances. It is time we redefined the title “practicing” in the light of what God unambiguously communicates in today’s first reading as well as throughout the Scriptures: breaking the fetters of injustice, unfastening the thongs of the yoke, releasing the oppressed, sharing food with the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless, clothing the naked, and providing for the needy—in short, acts of charity and compassionate justice over and above acts of personal piety. We are told that when we do that and call upon God, God will hear our cry and say, “I am here.” Perhaps when we practice our faith with such acts of love, it might not even be necessary to call upon or search for God, for then He will be already amidst us and we will be meeting Him face to face on a daily basis.
Fasting is a practice of all known religions, which should not be confused with another slimming diet in fashion in this secularized society. Jesus, with the example of the prophets of Israel, offers the meaning of a true fast, which does not take away the joyful messianic serenity and concretely manifested in sobriety and detachment from material things and vices. Gandhi affirms, “that fasting educates the essence and controls the senses through discipline.” The prophet Isaiah goes further: it consists of liberating the oppressed, breaking bread with the hungry, giving shelter to those who have none and clothing the naked.
 
Intercessions
For a Church that is concerned that no one is trampled upon or exploited, we pray:
For the leaders of nations, that they may being justice to their people and care for the poor, we pray:
For all of us, that we may have eyes, ears and hearts for people in need, also for those who try to hide that they are distressed and poverty-stricken, we pray:
 
Prayer over the Gifts
God of mercy and compassion,
you have invited us at the table of your Son,
that we may learn from him
to share our food and ourselves
with everyone in need.
Do not allow us ever to forget
how good you have been to us
and how you let Jesus raise us up
from our selfish greed.
Let his love grow and shine among us,
for he is our Lord for ever. Amen!
 
Prayer after Communion
Merciful God,
we are seeking you
and we want to be close to you.
Accept our thanks that you let us find you
in the lively, challenging word of Jesus
and in his presence among us
as our food and drink of life and joy.
Make us bring him especially
to people who suffer and are in need.
Let this be the way we ourselves
find healing and compassion,
through Christ our Lord. Amen!
 
Blessing
Jesus wants to stay with us as the source of our life and our joy. May we recognize his presence among us in the weak and the victims of injustice. May God bless you for this task, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!

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