Thursday, March 02, 2017

The Fasting God Desires

By Colleen O’Sullivan

“Why do we fast, and you do not see it? Afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?”
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!  (Isaiah 58:3a, 6-9a)

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.  (Psalm 51:3-4)

Centuries come and centuries go, but some things about human nature don’t ever seem to change.  People in Isaiah’s day wondered about the same things we ponder today.  Why does God not seem to notice what we do in the way of fasting and repenting?  The ancient Israelites fasted and covered themselves in sackcloth and ashes.  We fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstain from eating meat on the Fridays of Lent.  What more does God ask of us?

Well, actually, a lot, if you take the Scriptures seriously.  God wants more than token gestures; God wants all of us, including our hearts.  So when we have a meatless meal on a Friday in Lent, it shows our hearts are in tune with God’s compassionate heart if we couple that with putting an offering into our Catholic Relief Service rice bowls.  Our sacrifice then goes on to help someone somewhere else in the world who is hungry or starving.

God encourages us to make sacrifices or fast from food and drink or activities in our lives not so much for the benefit of doing those things in and of themselves but so that we free up our time and resources to be available for others.  God has a whole list of suggestions in today’s Scripture reading from the Book of Isaiah – work for justice and release for those living under burdensome conditions, freeing those who are oppressed, feeding the hungry, offering shelter to the homeless, and clothing the naked.  When we give up something so that we can offer help to someone else, it shows God the transformation from self-absorption to caring for the least among us.  That transformation is what gets God’s attention.
We don’t have to look very far to see opportunities to help others in need.  I happen to reside in Fairfax County, one of the wealthiest counties in the United States in terms of median annual household income.  But not everyone in the county is affluent, by any means.  In fact, according to the Capital Area Food Bank in Fairfax County, more than seven percent of county residents don’t have access to a reliable source of healthy food.  Approximately 12 percent of children under 18 fall into this category.  Your rice bowl will work against hunger in other countries, but, closer to home, you could also give to your local parish’s food pantry or you could volunteer to sort food for the Capital Area Food Bank. 
On their website Catholic Charities of the Arlington Diocese provides suggestions for volunteer opportunities – putting together non-perishable, nutritious meals that can be distributed where needed throughout the diocese or creating encouraging cards that can be given to the homeless, sick or imprisoned within the diocese. 
There are any number of ways your Lenten sacrifice can become a gift of life to another one of God’s children, and that’s what God is looking for.

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