“This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.” - Isaiah 58:6-7
Fasting is commonly understood as a means of personal holiness: a way of expiating sin, of purifying one’s spirit, of offering something up to God. However, fasting is integrally related to the almsgiving of the Gospel – the practice of compassion and justice. Through fasting, we are challenged to a greater simplicity of life, to “live simply so that others may simple live” (Gandhi). Does our Lenten commitment involve a deeper reaching out to our sisters and brothers who are marginalized and forgotten? Do we adopt a simpler lifestyle, or sharing of time and resources that raise awareness concerning the plight of those less privileged in society, or deepen solidarity with God’s poor?
God in Jesus whom we seek to know, love, and serve was born poor, lived a poor life, identified with the poor, and died poor. Our love for God is diminished if there is less room for the poor in our hearts. Moreover, the poor are not just those with material needs. The poor includes those who are outside our circle of compassion, those we find difficulty accepting. In reaching out to such sisters and brothers, we open ourselves to meeting and loving our God who stands with those who are poor. This is not an easy message; yet do we genuinely long to encounter and love the God of Jesus?
“O Lord, help us reach out in gratitude to you in those whom society rejects, abandons, or despises … in those we cannot yet accept.”