Pray, Fast and Give alms (in private) – not for the show, not for worldly recognition, but out of LOVE for God and neighbor.
Homily 03-09-11, Communion Service, jmp
Jl 2:12-18; PS 51:3-17; 2 Cor 5:20-6:2; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18
In the days of the Prophet Joel, when someone realized that they had sinned against God, they would show their sorrow by humiliating themselves. And that humiliation took the form of tearing their clothes, throwing ashes on their heads and moaning in the streets. Joel tells the people that an outward sign is alright, but what God really wants – is a total change of heart.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus echoes Joel’s words by saying that true repentance is not the outward show of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. True repentance is an inward change of heart toward God. I’m not praying to look holy, but because I really do care for those people I’m praying for, with all my love. I’m not giving donations so that I can have a tax deduction. I’m giving alms because I really care for the poor, who so desperately need what I’ve given for their basic survival – of food, clothing and shelter. And I’m not fasting so that other people will feel sorry for me. I’m fasting to strengthen my own physical character and discipline.
You see, if I can get away with missing a meal, and still be physically healthy and emotionally pleasant to my neighbors, then, if there ever is a time when there is no food, or if my neighbor could use my food more than I, then I would be happy to offer my portion and still be able to be pleasant without it – because of the strength that I gained through Lent. These are the attitudes that God would like to see from all of us, with respect to prayer, fasting and almsgiving. This is what Lent is all about.
Jesus himself, had experienced human need through his 40-day fast in the desert. He did this – both to show us that it IS physically possible (at least for a 30-year young man) and to let us know that he actually, physically, understands our suffering, because he has lived it himself.
And fasting doesn’t necessarily have to be only from food. We can abstain from a favorite TV show or something else we enjoy, and then pray or read the Bible instead. There are many different ways of growing closer to God through our self-discipline. So as we begin this Lenten season, let’s pray for God’s guidance and strength, to help us find a little piece of His Goodness in every day we are given.