Feb 19, 2021: Friday

“Overcoming stagnancy and, instead, opening our eyes to the real purpose and meaning of our fasting and our acts of penance!”

(Based on Isa 58:1-9a, Mt 9:14-15 – Friday after Ash Wednesday)

Dengue and malaria are fatal sicknesses that have affected a large number of people, all over the world.

These dreaded sicknesses, are mosquito-borne infections that can cause severe-flu like illness.

One of the causes of steep rise of mosquitoes is the accumulation of stagnant water.
Stagnant water is a favourite breeding-ground for mosquito larvae, which leads to the spread of dengue.

When there is stagnancy, there is a greater chance of sicknesses to spread!

This simple aspect can be very well applied to human minds and human actions as well…

A stagnant mind becomes the breeding ground for laziness, obstinacy and lethargy!
A stagnant action becomes the breeding ground for lukewarmness and listlessness!

There is no vitality in stagnancy…

There is no vivacity in sluggishness…
There is no exuberance in dormancy…

The Gospel of the Day presents this attitude of lifelessness and inertness due to the stagnant practice of an important devotion, namely fasting!

The Gospel passage begins with a note of complaint…
… the disciples of John raising the voice of complaint

“Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” (Mt 9:14)

The Law of Moses declared only one day of fasting – the day of Atonement.

The Book of Leviticus prescribes this fast: “On the tenth day of the seventh month…
… you are to enter into a solemn fast and refrain from all work, because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you.

In the presence of God you will be made clean of all your sins.
It is a Sabbath of all Sabbaths. You must fast. It is a perpetual ordinance” (Lev 16:29-31)

But it is to be noted that the Pharisees and, the disciples of John also practised another tradition: fasting two days a week.

This was considered to be a very pious act among this group.

And so they raised question: “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”

Here is an important human tendency that is highlighted:

Comparison with others to justify one’s actions
Self-righteous feelings to put down others

This group was probably comparing their actions with the disciples…
… in order to show themselves as being superior

This group was probably having “an air of self-righteousness”…
… in order to show the disciples of Jesus to be inferior and lower

But the Lord draws attention…
… to the stagnancy in their practise
… to the fact of the real purpose of fasting

The practice of fasting was…
… for atonement of one’s sins.
… a time of mourning in seeking for the restoration of Israel.
… a period of waiting for the Messiah who would redeem their nation.

But all these fundamental dimensions of fasting were quite neglected!

Their practise of fasting had grown stagnant.
Their mindset in skipping meals had become sluggish.
They failed to realise the reason and meaning for their fasting.

This same danger is very much possible for us too…

As we engage ourselves – especially in this season of Lent – in the pious practices of fasting and penance, we need to ask…
Is my fasting helping me to realise the need to offer my life more and more to Jesus, my Messiah?

Are my acts of penances nurturing me to grow in my relationship and care for one another?

Is my fasting helping me to “give” – give my love, care, time, money etc- rather than just “give up”

Are my acts of penances nurturing me to cultivate a greater concern and sensitivity to others?

Jesus intends that our fasting and our acts of penance…
… help us to grow, and deepen our love for Him and to realise His Greater Presence in our life
… nurture in us good actions, to reach out in humble service to one another!

Prophet Isaiah strongly presents to us the intention of God in our acts of fasting and penance: Isaiah 58: 6-7…
… to loose the bonds of injustice
… to undo the thongs of the yoke
… to let the oppressed go free
… to break every yoke
… to share your bread with the hungry
… to bring the homeless poor into your house
… to cover the naked

Our fasting, penances and sacrifices are to help us become more joyful…
… because we have Jesus, the bridegroom with us.
… because we have Jesus, the One for Whom we are fasting, is with us!

His presence with us, is a matter of joy…
… yet we fast and do penance, to share joyfully in His suffering and pain.

His presence with us, is an occasion of rejoicing…
… yet we make sacrifices and discipline ourselves, to find deeper meaning in His Cross.

His presence with us, is a period of celebration…
…. yet we have self-control and abstain oneself, to be united closer to His redeeming action.

Let us not get stagnant.

Let us, instead, open our eyes to the real purpose and meaning of our fasting and our acts of penance.

God Bless! Live Jesus!

Discovering the beauty of the Catholic Church through the Catechism:

A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses of the Scripture:
The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith;
The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny.
It is the task of exegetes to work, according to these rules, towards a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture…
… in order that their research may help the Church to form a firmer judgement.
The interpreting of Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgement of the Church…
… which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God (CCC 118-119)

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