The reading from Isaiah begins by asking, “Why do we fast, and you do not see it?”; “afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?”
These questions remind me of our need to rejoice in knowing the Lord and to “go placidly amid the noise and the haste” (Desiderata) in following the teachings of the Lord. We are called to enter into quiet self-sacrificing and fasting in order to better understand and appreciate ourselves, others and our relationship with God. Fasting, in which we abstain from temptations, and experience self-discipline, should not be looked at as a suffering experience but rather an opportunity for growth.
God is not asking us to suffer in fasting with “our head bowed like a reed and to live in sackcloth and ashes”; God is asking us to grow from this opportunity. God is asking us for a change of heart by ‘releasing those bound unjustly’, ‘setting free the oppressed’. We are called to forgive, to give up on our need to be controlling, to allow others to develop their own personal expectations. We are asked to truly love our fellow men/women. We are asked to be in community with others and to share our love through our actions and words, knowing we are loved and guided by God.
Isaiah ends his message with three powerful words, “Here I am.” We are privileged to live our lives knowing that God will be with us in our struggles in abstaining from temptation, in our journey to change our hearts, to truly live out the love and the compassion we come to understand through prayer and through our fasting.
The Psalm in today’s readings speaks of humility. As we look at the mistakes we’ve made in life we are reminded to be mindful of these mistakes, to ask for forgiveness, to again experience a change of heart and to go forward. We are reminded to stay humble, not to act out of guilt, remembering that the greatest gift is a contrite and humble heart.
Finally, the Gospel reminds us to rejoice in our relationship with God. To see God in all things, relish our ‘God experiences’ and to make memories of these experiences.
As we continue through these days of Lent let us pray that our fasting can lead us to a change of heart, a closer relationship with our Lord, and a more loving understanding and acceptance of our fellow men and women.
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