Friday, 3 March 2017 : Friday after Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard a very clear message from the Sacred Scriptures, reminding all of us Christians that during this season of Lent, even as we prepare ourselves for the coming celebrations of the Holy Week and Easter, and as we practice the traditional Lenten practices of fasting and abstinence, we must understand what is it that we are doing, and how we are going to do them appropriately.

Why is this so, brothers and sisters? It is because it is very easy for us to end up doing things that our faith has prescribed, and yet without understanding of what it is that we are doing, and therefore in the end, we end up doing things for the sake of doing them. We end up becoming Christians for-show-only and not having much substance in our faith. We cannot be like these, brethren.

We cannot fast in the manner that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done, as they wailed and acted to show very visibly to all who saw them, that they were fasting. They wanted to be seen by all others in how pious they have been with their fasting, with how they wore the sackcloth and in their long prayers for God’s forgiveness, and yet, their words and prayers were empty, for they did not have God in their hearts, and their outward expressions of faith were meaningless.

All of these came to the basic question we all need to ask ourselves, what is it that we are fasting for? What is it that we are abstaining and doing all of our penance for? Is it for ourselves and for our own glory? Is it to make ourselves look good and praiseworthy in the eyes of others? If these are our motivations and intentions, then perhaps we really should spend some time to reevaluate our efforts this Lent.

We fast and abstain from certain kind of food, or from certain kind of our obsessions not because of ourselves, but because of the Lord our God. It is because we are sinners and we have been unworthy of the Lord that we fast. We fast because we are aware of just how sinful and wicked we are, and we humble ourselves before the Lord, asking Him to forgive us our trespasses.

And more importantly, the main reason of our fasting and abstinence is for us to restrain ourselves and our human and worldly desires, resisting the temptation of the flesh, the desires for pleasure and sexual gratification, for things that cause us to sin and fall into wickedness. And therefore, that is why in the first reading today, the Lord through His prophet Isaiah rebuked His people, because while they fasted and did all sorts of acts of penance, but they committed other forms of sin at the same time, by being angry upon others and by committing injustice and corrupt acts.

That was what happened to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law as well. On one hand, they acted as if they were pious and devout, following obediently the laws of God, fasting and following the important dates of the year, in all of its events and observations, but on the other hand, they had acted unjustly, condemning the poor and sinners who needed their help. They did not lift up their hands to help those who are in need of help.

And they even misled the people of God and acted as unjust shepherds, who abandoned their people when they are in need. In that way, their fasting and abstaining, all of their pious observations were meaningless not just because they did not do it for God or for the absolution of their sins, but also because they have done more wicked deeds than good, and therefore, their fast and abstinence were truly empty.

Is that what we are also doing with our own lives, brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we also fasting and abstaining without understanding their true purpose and meaning? Are we doing them while at the same time, committing more acts of sin and injustice, of hatred and anger, and all sorts of wicked deeds that make our acts of penance meaningless?

Fasting is not just about staying away from food and resisting the temptations of hunger. The same goes with abstinence and other acts of penance we commonly do during this season of Lent. More importantly, we must show love, care and concern for others, so that as we restrain ourselves from doing what is sinful and wicked in the sight of God, we dull the edges of our sins, but at the same time, sharpening the edges of our righteousness.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, during this season of Lent, let us all pray and work together, so that each and every one of us will not only learn to restrain ourselves and our sinfulness through fasting and abstinence, but also learn to grow stronger in our faith, committing ourselves through love and commitment to do what the Lord had commanded us to do. Love one another, care for those who have not received any love and care, and be merciful to our fellow brethren.

May the Lord bless us all, and help us that in this season of Lent, we may grow ever closer to the Lord, and may each and every one of us through right way of fasting and abstinence, be able to prepare ourselves thoroughly to celebrate the coming celebrations of Holy Week and Easter, and gain for ourselves righteousness in God. God bless us all. Amen.

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