Homilette for February 8, 2008

Friday alter Ash Wednesday

(Isaiah 58:1-9a)

Like Mahatma Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, the Mexican-American farm labor organizer, often fasted. He did not necessarily ask others to accompany him in his sacrifice. Rather, he fasted in order that he himself might be cleansed inwardly. He knew how fasting enables one to focus on his or her objectives. Distractions, at least from food, will not tempt the faster because he or she has already made a decision about them. Also, the sense of inner hunger gives urgency to the faster’s purpose.

The prophet Isaiah in the first reading today scolds Israel for not fasting rightly. Religious fasting should remind the people of their first priority, which is God. However, Israel only exploits its fasting to gain more money. It is as if the money the people save from not eating is used not for the poor or for some necessity at home, but to buy lottery tickets.

During Lent the Church calls us to fast. The ashes we accepted on Wednesday were an explicit recognition that we have sinned. We should have also been asking ourselves, “What are we going to do about our sins?” The answer, of course, comprises the three disciplines of Lent. First, we are going to turn away from the gratification of our appetites. Then, we will pray to God for forgiveness. Finally, we will show greater care for everyone, especially those in need. In these ways, we shall reach our goal, which is no one other than God.