I’m a Roman Catholic. For Catholics and others, the Lenten season is a time of self-denial. Often Catholics give up something for Lent, with chocolate being the typical choice, it seems. This custom, like other customs, has value in it. Customs or rituals provide a framework, a familiar pattern to follow that takes us outside of our mundane every day lives and allows us to be a part of the larger community. But Lent is different in that it is personal. The idea is (or should be) for us to challenge ourselves in some way that results in us needing God’s help. The best Lent is not one in which we have persevered on our own, but one in which we have sought, and received, God’s help. That is, to pray.
So it is with fasting. A successful fast (if you can call it that) is not one of self-achievement, but one in which you seek, and are given, a helping hand.
Further, the purpose of fasting is not self-denial or self-punishment. Consider Isaiah 58:5-9.
- “Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
- Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
- Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
- Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
- Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”
Let’s take Isaiah’s words to heart this Lenten season.
P.S. This would have been Dad’s 88th birthday. Happy Birthday Dad!