Friday, 16 February 2018 : Friday after Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we focuses on the aspect of fasting and abstinence which we practice during this season of Lent. Now the Law of the Church prescribed that only on two occasions that we are required to fast, that is during Ash Wednesday as well as on Good Friday. Fasting refers to the practice of not eating more than the equivalent of two full meals in a day, which can be one full meal and two smaller meals, also known as collations.

Meanwhile abstinence refers to the practice of not eating meat and meat products, and instead, fishes and seafood are usually consumed. Both practices had their roots in the Scripture, with fasting as a common practice in the past for those who would like to purify themselves to be ready to meet up with God or to undertake important and holy tasks, in order to prepare themselves wholeheartedly. The Lord Jesus Himself fasted for forty days and forty nights before He began His ministry.

Then, abstinence is a practice linked to the moment when the Lord Jesus was crucified, sacrificing Himself and His Body and flesh for us on the cross, and as the word ‘flesh’ in Latin is the same as used for meat, thus, Christians practiced this abstinence from meat on Fridays, not just during Lent, but in fact throughout the whole year, as Friday marks the day when Good Friday happened, the day of Our Lord’s crucifixion and death on the cross.

It is important that we truly understand the reason why we fast and why we abstain from meat. In fact, abstinence itself is not restricted to the no consumption of meat alone, but can include any other things, pleasures and indulgences that we have, which we want to restrain in order to prepare ourselves better spiritually, mentally and physically, especially in this season of Lent, as we prepare for the coming of Holy Week and Easter.

Otherwise, we will end up being hypocrites in our faith, just as the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done. The Lord rebuked them because they fasted in order to be seen by others as being pious and obedient to the Law, and they made a lot of fuss over many external observances of the laws of God, not just in the matter of fasting but also over prayer and other forms of piety, so that all those who saw them might praise them and honour them for what they had done.

Yet, their actions represent exactly what the prophet Isaiah had said in his preachings, which we heard in our first reading today. The prophet Isaiah condemned and rebuked all those who fasted and practiced their faith, and yet at the same time, committing things and actions which were contrary to the Law, such as lying, stealing and cheating on others, and even causing pain and sorrow to those whom they persecuted.

That was what the Pharisees had done, claiming to be pious through their actions and yet, they did their actions for the wrong reasons, seeking self-glorification and to satisfy personal ambitions and greed instead of for the greater glory of God as they should have done. It can be the same for us as well, when we do not practice our faith with the right actions and for the right reasons, even our fasting and abstaining during this season of Lent.

When we fast, do we do it because we truly love the Lord Our God so much, that we want to be rid of our sins and all of the wickedness inside each one of us by the practice of fasting, which restrains our desire and the temptations of our flesh, resulting in greater resilience and endurance in our faith? Or do we do it, because we want to be recognised by others as being pious and devout?

Do we abstain because we want to resist the temptations of our flesh or because we want to show off our piety for others? It is important that we think this thoroughly, as the actions we take without the right reasons will end up causing us to lose the true intention of what we are doing in this season of Lent. Are we doing our Lenten practices correctly so as to make our Lenten experience more meaningful?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, let us reflect on our respective lives, and think of how we can better commemorate this season of Lent, by living a life with a deeper commitment to prayer, spending more quality time with Our Lord, and through our closer relationship with Him, we may draw ever closer to God’s love and grace. And when we fast and abstain, let us, if we have not done so, do them with the right reason and intention.

Let us restrain our human emotions, all the greed, the jealousy, the pride, the ambition, the anger, the hatred and all the negativities present in our lives, through our pious actions and devotions, especially in this blessed season of Lent. May the Lord be with us in our journey of faith, committing ourselves ever more devoutly to the Lord, and that we may find eternal life, glory and joy with Him at the end of our journey. May God bless us all. Amen.