Wednesday of the First Week in Lent
(Jonah 3:1-10; Luke 11:29-32)
The Lenten fast sixty years ago required adults to not eat between meals and to not eat meat more than once a day. Many Catholics either could not or would not make these sacrifices. For the sake of unity and perhaps to curtail people from judging one another these rules were relaxed. Since the Second Vatican Council the Lenten fast in the United States has been simplified. Catholics are not to eat meat on Fridays and to not eat between meals on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Still some people have difficulty meeting this reduced command.
The practice of a communal fast is presented in today’s first reading. The Book of Jonah tells how non-Jews once responded to the Word of God by fasting. On order of their king the whole population along with their animals did not eat or drink. Truthfully, there is no other historical record that this fast took place. Very probably the book was not written as a tale to change Jewish attitudes towards foreigners as well as to promote devotion among Jews. Yet the idea of a communal penance is clearly established.
We too much consider ourselves as individuals and not as parts of a community or, better, communities. We need to recognize that we both reap benefits and do damage according to the groups to which we belong. When these groups injure others, we should recognize some responsibility. The most patent example of injury for Catholics, as for many other organizations, has been racial prejudice. Doing a common penance in reparation for these sins seems both fair and wise.