Homily for the Friday after Ash Wednesday (20 February 2015)
Readings: Is 59: 1-9a; Ps 51; Mt 9: 14 – 15
For you [O God] will that our self-denial should give you thanks,
humble our sinful pride, contribute to the feeding of the poor,
and so help us imitate your kindness.
The Roman Missal. Preface for Lenten weekdays 3
In the Roman Catholic Church the three days between Ash Wednesday and the First Sunday of Lent are each of them focused in some way on one of the particular practices we identify with the discipline of Lent, namely, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Today’s focus – not surprisingly on Friday – is on fasting.
Isaiah warns that fasting without refraining from injustice and oppression but rather engaging in works of mercy to the poor, for whom fasting is not a choice but a fact of their position in society, is an abomination in God’s sight. Matthew is wrestling with the reality of the seeming discontinuity between the full stomach eating of Jesus and his disciples and the retrieval of fasting among the members of the Jesus Movement for whom Matthew is writing.
The liturgy of the Church today gives us an insightful little lesson about the reason for and goal of all our forms of Lenten fasting and I suspect that they are not immediately self-evident.
1. Our self-denial leads to thanksgiving. How so?
We do not deny ourselves the things we dislike or that we are usually unaccustomed to doing:
reading reports on the stock market, cleaning out the garage or attic….
We refrain from things that we enjoy: adult beverages, sweets, perhaps movies or certain TV shows. Lenten Preface 3 suggests that self-denial intensifies appreciation and appreciation grounds thanksgiving to God, the source of all good things.
Jay Cormier in today’s reflection (Daily Reflections for Lent. Not by Bread Alone 2015. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 10 – 11) shares Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s observation on fasting (The Book of Jewish Values):
– Fasting from complaining leads to awareness of our blessings;
– Fasting from criticism leads to renewed vision of the goodness of others;
– Fasting from anger leads to awareness of our need for forgiveness and understanding.
2. Our self-denial humbles our pride. How so?
About the second or third week of Lent – if not sooner – we might find ourselves obsessing about those things from which we are refraining: what’s happening to Lady Mary at Downton Abbey or we begin to imagine that not having enough sugar or liquid spirits may actually be bad for our health. And we are humbled that we thought we could be faithful to our resolve for forty days.
3. Our self-denial contributes to the feeding of the poor. How so?
Letting go of what I hold dear frees me for generosity. The resources not used to satisfy me become resources for those who are no so blessed: money, food, time for others….
4. And so we are helped to imitate God’s kindness. How so?
What we value and cherish we want to tell others about. The graces of Lenten practice
we want to offer to others. Our offerings to the poor remind them and us that they are God’s special children. Our giving mirrors the self-giving of God.
So let us give thanks to the Lord our God.