Friday after Ash Wednesday
(Isaiah 58:1-9a; Matthew 9:14-15)
Muslims are apt to ridicule the Catholic way of fasting. “What is so hard about not eating between meals,” they might ask, “when you can eat three times a day?” They see their fast of not eating or drinking at all during daylight hours as much more demanding. But we might query Muslims about the severity of their practice as they often binge throughout the night during their month of fasting.
God calls into question the fasts of both Catholics and Muslims as He chastises Israel in today’s reading from Isaiah. His criticism is not that fasting has no value but that it must be accompanied by a change of heart. Indeed, fasting can facilitate conversion by palpably reminding us of those in extreme need. Not eating sweets should make us think of the millions of refugees whose daily bread is bitterness. Abstaining from meat should conjure images of poorly educated people in our own country whose lives lack substance.
We must also pray for the needy, give of our sufficiency to assist them, and advocate for changes in public policy to safeguard their human dignity. These are not Lenten exercises. They only begin now and should last until our deaths. Each year we will want to modify and add to them so that God finds all His people living in peace.