The first Friday in Lent…and “communal abstinence” is breaking out all over.
The season of Parish Fish Fries has begun!
We’re certainly good about that – good about turning one element of our seasonal self-denial into something resembling a party. We may be ‘giving up meat’ for a day…but that’s no reason for turning our backs on the community!
It’s interesting though how abstinence’s twin – fasting – tends to turn into more of a solitary pursuit for many of us. We give something up…probably hoping (praying) that the sacrifice can somehow mend our relationship with God. A way, perhaps, to buy God’s favor. There can be a definite quid-pro-quo or transactional vibe to our fasting.
Apparently, that wasn’t the case back in Jesus’ day. In the gospel reading we hear at Mass today, the disciples of John the Baptist refer to fasting as very much a communal affair:
‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?’
And in the reading we hear from Isaiah, it’s clear that the great prophet considers ‘mutuality’ to be a critical component of fasting. There’s always an ‘other’ involved. ‘Fasting’ is not just about ‘me’.
This rather is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly; untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed…sharing your bread with the hungry…
Meditate on that dynamic for a minute, and you quickly come to the conclusion that Lenten practices are most fruitful…when they connect us to the Body of Christ.
…When they teach me to look beyond my petty needs…or my petty wounds…for an opportunity to ‘be Christ’ to others.
I was blessed yesterday by just such an act of almsgiving. Actually, by a string of selfless acts: A dear friend was visiting the local Pauline Books & Media store a few weeks ago…and happened to mention my involvement in prison ministry to one of the nuns. Sister Laura then asked him to have me contact her.
We made connections…and so there I found myself yesterday, picking up a couple of dozen Bibles to bring to the prison – for the chaplain to distribute, free of charge, to the inmates. A gift made possible in part, I learned, by a donation Sister had received from a woman who asked that it be spent on prisoners.
There was certainly an ‘otherness’ to that woman’s almsgiving. Her generosity will feed the souls of men she’ll likely never know. And I have no way to thank her.
I can only be blessed by her—and by her ability to see a path to holiness in the needs of those around her.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.