Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!
Ash Wednesday opens Lent which is a time of spiritual renewal – a time of going with Jesus to the desert in order to fast and to pray. Thus, fasting today is obligatory for all aged 18 to 60. Today’s obligatory fast hopefully will encourage us to engage in various acts of penance and piety throughout this blessed season.
As we enter into Lent, we receive a warning from the Lord against doing acts of piety and charity “in order that people may see them.” In other words, he warns us against engaging in spiritual acts for a show. And so, as we fast, we are not supposed to look gloomy and unkempt so that others may know that we are fasting. And so is it also with prayer and almsgiving. The point is that we should keep in mind that these acts of piety and charity are not a show, not a performance aimed at eliciting admiration from others. We do these not to impress people. Rather, we do these to worship the Lord and to show him how sorry we are for our sins. The only eyes we wish to entertain with our fasting, prayer, and almsgiving would be those of the “Father who sees what is hidden.” We “rend (our) hearts, not (our) garments, and return to the Lord…for gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.”
We rend our hearts, not our garments – the words of the prophet Joel tell us to be concerned about interiority, that is, about “what is hidden.” Fasting is not about keeping a trim figure or a healthy lifestyle. Rather, fasting is about rending our hearts. Its objective is interior conversion. Fasting is not about detoxifying our bodies. It is about detoxifying our souls of any attachment we have to ourselves and to the world. In his Lenten message for this year, the Holy Father invites us “to look at others, first of all at Jesus, to be concerned for one another, and not to remain isolated and indifferent to the fate of our brothers and sisters. All too often, however, our attitude is just the opposite: an indifference and disinterest born of selfishness and masked as a respect for ‘privacy’.” When we fast, we deny ourselves of what we perceive is rightfully ours. This act of self denial breaks our selfishness. It breaks our obsession with “privacy”. It breaks our self possession so that we may open ourselves to the Lord in prayer and to our neighbor in almsgiving. By loving ourselves less, we become available to loving the Lord more and our neighbor for the sake of our Lord. The Holy Father asks, “What hinders (the) humane and loving gaze towards our brothers and sisters? Often it is the possession of material riches and a sense of sufficiency, but it can also be the tendency to put our own interests and problems above all else. We should never be incapable of ‘showing mercy’ towards those who suffer. Our hearts should never be so wrapped up in our affairs and problems that they fail to hear the cry of the poor.”
And so, as we quit our bridal chambers, let us go to the altar and say to the Lord: “Spare, O Lord, your people.” As we empty our plates, let us put food in the plates of the poor. The money we do not spend for the meals we intend not to take, let us donate them to the hapag-asa foundation so that we may feed hungry and malnourished children. Let this season of Lent be less about ourselves and more about others – let us be more fervent in our prayers and more generous in our charity. “Behold, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.”
O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!