In Lent we are called to fast—but do we fast well?
Taken from FR RALPH DE HAHN reflects on the pitfalls and the graces of fasting.
Southern Cross Feb 19 to Feb 25 2020
The prophet Isaiah is deeply grieved when he condemns the outward display of fasting among the Pharisees and the people of Israel. He demands not mere exterior actions and rituals but also a radical change of heart, seeking a closer union with the Father Creator.
Isaiah is ruthless as he cries: “Look, you quarrel and squabble when you fast…fasting like yours will never make your voice heard on high, hanging your heads like a reed, lying down on sackcloth and ashes!”
Then he gets to the essentials: “Is that what you call fasting? Rather break unjust fetters, let the oppressed go free, share your bread with the hungry, shelter the homeless poor, clothe the man who is naked.” Then, the prophet says, “will your light shine in the darkness…and your integrity will go before you” (Isa 58).
We also have that beautiful spirit of purification offered by Ezekiel: “I shall cleanse you of all your defilement and your false idols, and shall give you a new heart. “I shall remove your heart of stone…and give you a heart of flesh and put a new spirit in you” (Ez 36:25–30). All this speaks eloquently of spiritual fasting.
Go back to the Source
The Lenten fast is an excellent opportunity for fruitful self-examination. Going forward does demand going back to our Source, and Jesus is the only way to the Father. Our external acts of self-denial— like giving up smoking, alcohol, sugar and so on—may give some satisfaction, but the prophets and also Jesus himself ask us to gaze inside for a change of heart. That means the desire for a cleansing; a transformation, aided only by grace; an honest assessment of our behaviour in loving, in forgiving others, in humility, in our speech, our habit of swearing, using God’s name, self-righteousness, stubbornness, our rash judgments, our uncontrollable anger, our reverence in adoration and prayer, and so many irritating failures. That is the true call for fasting.
Easy? No way. We must give God the opportunity to work in us, and through us. So we have Lent. Approaching this challenge in faith, and utterly dependent on his grace and the power of the Spirit, we may find the light blinding. It may hurt at first, but soon it
will heal—and will speak to us. “Then will your light shine like the dawn and your wounds be quickly healed over” (Isa 58).