Friday after Ash Wednesday, Feb 28th: Reflection & Liturgy

Isaiah 58:1-9 / Matthew 9:14-15 
This is the fast I want: “Share your bread with the hungry.”

Under the listing of “Dog” in the yellow pages of the Evanston, Illinois, telephone directory there is an ad for American Pet Motels. Here are some of the services these kennels provide for their clients’ pets. Deluxe and imperial suites FM music in every room Beauty salon Senior citizens’ care plan Daily cookie breaks When the initial humor of the ad fades, we suddenly realize that we take better care of our pets than we do of the poor.This is the kind of thing God confronts us with, through the prophet Isaiah, in today’s reading.
What are we doing toward feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked? “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” John F. Kennedy
In the Roman Catholic Church, there are only two obligatory days of fasting. One is on Ash Wednesday, which was just two days ago, and the other is on Good Friday. Yet the Church encourages the faithful to embrace this spiritual discipline of fasting especially during this season of Lent, and especially on Fridays.

This spiritual discipline of fasting is not just a religious or pious act but rather one that expresses a deep longing for conversion and repentance and for the healing grace of the Lord. It is because we see how detestable our sins and transgression is that we pray and fasting is indeed a form of prayer.

Also when we see sin and evil happening around us, like oppression of the poor and violence on the weak, injustice and deceit, then all the more we must pray and fast. For the sin and the evil in the world, and even in the Church, let us take seriously our prayer and the discipline of fasting.

Then when we cry out to the Lord, He will answer; when we call out to Him, He will answer: I am here.


People in the Old Testament ask: What is the use of fasting? God seems not to be near when they fast. The prophet tells them because real fasting consists in justice and love. Since God has made a covenant with his people, that covenant comprises also justice and love from one person to the other. In the gospel the disciples of John, who fasted, were asking the disciples of Jesus why these didn’t fast. In other parts of the gospel Jesus gives an answer similar to that of the prophet, but now Jesus said that because he has come and is with his disciples, they should rejoice rather than fast.   

Opening Prayer   
Lord of the Covenant,  we have not to fear your judgment  if like you we become rich in mercy  and full of compassion for our neighbor.  May we not only know that you ask us  but practice with sincere hearts  to share our food with the hungry  and to loosen the bonds of injustice,  that through us your light may shine  and your healing spread far and wide.  Be with us in your goodness.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.

There is room for fasting in our lives now that the bridegroom has gone to the Father. Sackcloth and ashes? Fine as far as they go, but Isaiah points out that they are not the heart of the matter. We can go through as many penitential practices as we wish, but as long as people are suffering around us, such practices mean very little.  We may think that the age of collective charity and justice is past. But personal experience tells us otherwise. There are Catholic hospitals that have never in their history turned a patient away for lack of money or insurance.  When a piece of national legislation threatened to make assistance to illegal immigrants a felony, the cardinal of America’s most populous diocese said that, if such legislation passed, he would direct his priests to disobey it.  There are moments in our lives that call for true Christian courage. There are times when it is necessary “to obey God rather than men.” The task cannot simply be left to others. We are called to bring personal support to the disenfranchised. One cannot read the daily papers without being struck by some human need in some part of the world. There are religious organizations equipped to respond quickly to worldwide catastrophe. They offer us the opportunity to respond.  “Share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house.” This is the call of the prophet. If we do, “your vindicator shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.”  Yes, fasting is appropriate, as the bridegroom has left. But, in another sense, he is still with us, urging us on to comfort our brothers and sisters, the needy of the world.   

Points to Ponder   
A Lenten priority: responding to need 
Caring for the sick poor 
Gospel over law  

– For a Church that is concerned that no one is trampled upon or exploited, we pray: 
– For the leaders of nations, that they may being justice to their people and care for the poor, we pray: 
– For all of us, that we may have eyes, ears and hearts for people in need, also for those who try to hide that they are distressed and poverty-stricken, we pray:   

Prayer over the Gifts   
God of mercy and compassion, you have invited us at the table of your Son, that we may learn from him to share our food and ourselves with everyone in need.  Do not allow us ever to forget  how good you have been to us  and how you let Jesus raise us up  from our selfish greed.  Let his love grow and shine among us, for he is our Lord for ever.   

Prayer after Communion   
Merciful God, we are seeking you and we want to be close to you.  Accept our thanks that you let us find you in the lively, challenging word of Jesus and in his presence among us as our food and drink of life and joy.  Make us bring him especially to people who suffer and are in need.  Let this be the way we ourselves find healing and compassion, through Christ our Lord.   

Jesus wants to stay with us as the source of our life and our joy. May we recognize his presence among us in the weak and the victims of injustice. May God bless you for this task, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.