I remember the year I decided (after a long discernment process) that I was going to “give up” macaroni and cheese for Lent. I was very confident with my choice. I reasoned that giving up my “favorite food in the world” had to be pleasing to God! Shortly after I made this difficult decision, my fifth grade friends and I were standing on the elementary school playground of the Catholic grade school where we attended. We had just been in our religion class and our teacher asked us if we had chosen some kind of Lenten discipline yet. During recess we continued the class discussion asking one another what everyone had decided to “give up” for Lent that year. What kind of fasting would we commit to that would be truly meaningful?
After the usual jokes about “giving up liver, boys and school,” we started sharing our decisions. There were many impressive descriptions about difficult fastings from chocolate, favorite television shows and desserts. Finally it was my turn. When I announced I was “giving up” macaroni and cheese, the whole group fell down in gales of laughter. Although I laughed along with them, I remember feeling both embarrassed and self-conscious. As close as I was to my friends, I realized that they did not know that macaroni and cheese was my favorite food and staring ahead at forty days without it was a “sacrifice” which felt unbearable. God was probably the only one who knew the authenticity of my choice. I began to understand what “fasting in private” and “sacrifice” were all about.
As an adult, I approach Lent each year pondering the three spiritual practices which the Church invites me to consider: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Each year my life is different from the last and each year I must approach Lent in a different way.
Today’s readings challenge us to re-consider our notion of fasting. We are called to a radical shift from our private discipline of forgoing “macaroni and cheese” to a public response which involves action and risk. It is also an invitation to bring healing to our world.
God speaks in the Isaiah reading to us and says, “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 …”
If we accept God’s challenge to be partners with God in the healing of the world, we are also invited to fast from our own personal habits and patterns which may be keeping us from God. Fasting from anger, resentment, criticism, selfishness, not loving ourselves, indifference or apathy can bring our lives and relationships more in touch with the peace that God has offered and which was modeled in the life of God’s son, Jesus. We are then prepared to reach out to others and while we are setting them free of their oppression, we are also being set free by them.
Our entire world is struggling under the weight of economic depression and loss. As we journey through Lent 2009, may we be in touch with those opportunities and moments where our “…light shall break forth like the dawn…” This Lent, let us stand in solidarity with both God and with one another.
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