As is often the case, today’s first reading and Gospel make a great tag team. The first reading provides suggestions on how to approach our daily lives and the Gospel narrows that down to discuss how to approach the three major acts of faith: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Both readings focus on how to deal with the abundance given us.
If you are reading this daily reflection, you definitely have a better quality of life than 90% of the world’s population and maybe even better than 99% of the world. Fully 99% of the world’s population works for less than $15 per hour with 90% of the population working for less than $1 per hour. Less than one dollar per hour!! You and I are the epitome of 2 Cor 9:8, “Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work.” Knowing this, Paul suggests that we are to “sow bountifully” in our good work, being generous and giving more rather than less. God gives to us in abundance and will even increase the impact of our good work to a greater abundance than merited by our work alone. In our daily lives, God gives us all we need and we are called to give generously so that God can give even more abundantly through our gifts to others.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus suggests that when we give to God we also do so abundantly, giving to God singly and not trying to get “double credit” by also trying to impress people around us. Indeed, Jesus tells us that we won’t get double credit, that we can EITHER impress others OR we can give to God as part of our relationship with Him/Her. This applies to our culture today in a rather straightforward fashion compared to the culture Jesus lived. We are called to pray and to give our money, time, and other material goods to others less fortunate than ourselves without drawing attention to ourselves. Ok, fair enough.
But, what about fasting? We are definitely not a culture that fasts. All you need to do is tune into any national report on obesity in this country for confirmation of this fact. Fasting is something Catholics are asked to do less than a dozen times a year – every Friday in Lent and the two days that mark the beginning and end of Lent. (I suppose you can count not eating an hour before Mass as fasting, but that is hardly an inconvenience.) And even then, during the Fridays in Lent we are asked to fast only by eliminating our consumption of meat. Perhaps we would see lower obesity rates if our culture connected the limiting of food, currently called dieting, with our relationship with God instead. Unfortunately, neither our secular culture nor the way we live our faith supports any type of true fasting. Jesus need not be concerned that we continue to bathe and be cheerful when we fast!
Maybe there are other methods for us to fast in our culture in this day and age. The key to fasting is to abstain or to eat sparingly. But, what if we applied this practice of abstaining and using sparingly to other areas of our life? We are starting to hear more about simplifying our lives, of refusing to live our society’s consumeristic lifestyle. If we purposefully limit our consumption as part of our faith, as an intentional way to relate with God, this too can be considered fasting. Or what if we limit some of the time we spend in less than healthy ways? If we intentionally cut our TV viewing time in half as part of our faith practice in relationship to God, this too would be fasting. And, if you are like me and struggle to not eat too much, the actual limitation of the amount and kind of food consumed undertaken as a way to give to God would not be a bad idea either!
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