The Word Among Us

Mass Reading & Meditation for February 28, 2020

Meditation: Isaiah 58:1-9

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Friday after Ash Wednesday

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish. (Isaiah 58:6)

The Israelites had such reverence for the holiness of God that they were careful to follow specific rules when they came to worship in the Temple. Before prayer, for example, they had to perform certain cleansing rituals. They abstained from certain foods to set themselves apart from the surrounding nations. They fasted on the Day of Atonement to demonstrate their repentance for their sins. They even added ceremonial fasts to intensify their worship and intercession.

Imagine the powerful witness these acts gave to the holiness of God! At the same time, however, such acts of reverence ran the risk of becoming external formalities—strategies people used to ensure that God would answer their prayers. Then, when they left the Temple, they would just go back to following their selfish ways.

In today’s first reading, Isaiah responds to this misguided approach. He tells the people about the kind of fasting that God wishes. He doesn’t condemn fasting, of course; he just doesn’t want us to detach it from its true meaning: reverence for God expressed in love of neighbor.

God doesn’t give rules just to see how obedient we can be. He gives them as tools that can shape our hearts to make us like him. The point of fasting and self-denial during Lent is to take on God’s way of seeing and acting—to willingly make sacrifices in order to love other people. Is it good to go to Mass and Confession regularly, to fast and give to charity, and to avoid serious sin? You bet. But God wants observances like these to become living, tangible acts of love.

God is offering you the same opportunity he offered the Israelites. He is describing the kind of fasting that will put a smile on his face. It’s not hidden, it’s not mysterious, and it’s not mystical. Granted, it’s not always easy either. But we know what he is asking of us, and we just have to figure out how to do it.

In prayer today, ask the Holy Spirit to help you find one way that you can practice this concrete kind of fasting. Do you know someone who is bound, oppressed, hungry, homeless, or naked? Reach out to them and “your light shall break forth like the dawn” (Isaiah 58:8).

“Lord, help me to do the fasting that you wish for.”

Psalm 51:3-6, 18-19
Matthew 9:14-15

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