Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Catholics attend Mass on this day and 'receive' ashes on their forhead in the shape of a cross. Being marked with ashes at the beginning of Lent
indicates our recognition of the need for deeper conversion of our
lives during this season of renewal. Always room for improvement, right?? The season of Lent is also a time of fasting. Fasting is more than a means of developing
self-control. It is often an aid to prayer, as the pangs of hunger
remind us of our hunger for God. The first reading on the Friday after
Ash Wednesday points out another important dimension of fasting. The
prophet Isaiah insists that fasting without changing our behavior is
not pleasing to God. "This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting
free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the
hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked
when you see them, and not turning your back on your own" (Is 58:6-7).
Fasting should be linked to our concern for those who
are forced to fast by their poverty, those who suffer from the
injustices of our economic and political structures, and those who are in
need for any reason.
Through Baptism, we are charged with the
responsibility of showing Christ's love to the world, especially to
those in need. Fasting can help us be aware of the suffering that so many
people in our world experience every day, and it should lead us to
greater efforts to alleviate that suffering.
It's also a sign of our care for
those in need and an expression of our gratitude for all that God has
given to us. Another thing that we do during Lent is not eat meat on certain days. Abstaining from meat
traditionally also linked us to the poor, who could seldom afford meat
for their meals. It can do the same today if we remember the purpose of
abstinence, and embrace it as a spiritual link to those whose diets are
sparse and simple. That should be the goal we set for ourselves—a
sparse and simple meal. Avoiding meat but then eating lobster misses the
whole point!! Eric and I have seen true hunger first-hand in Mexico & Peru, and it's something that leaves an indelible mark on your memory. Seeing young children starving is especially heartbreaking. We'll forever be sincerely grateful for the privilege & pure luck of being born here in the United States... there but for the grace of God go I...
Another aspect of Lent is doing works of charity and the promotion of justice. These are positive actions that we should take on. They are integral
elements of the Christian way of life we began when we were baptized. So Lent is not just a time of 'giving up treats' which is the popular notion - it's a time to be proactive!