Friday alter Ash Wednesday
(Isaiah 58:1-9ª; Matthew 9:14-15)
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. He said that he fasted so that might be cleansed inwardly. He knew how fasting enables one to focus on objectives. Distractions, at least from food, will not sway 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 people of their first priority, which is God. However, Israel only exploits fasting to increase profits. It is as if the money the people save by not eating is used not to help the poor or even to buy some necessity for home, but to play the lottery.
During Lent the Church calls us to fast. The ashes we accepted on Wednesday were an explicit recognition that we have sinned. We have to ask ourselves, “What are we going to do about our sins?” The three great disciplines of Lent comprise the answer. 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 none other than God.