Friday, 24 February 2023 : Friday after Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, all of us are called to focus on the matter of fasting as highlighted throughout the Scripture readings today. During the season of Lent, there are two days in which we are all required to fast, which is the Ash Wednesday at the very beginning of Lent, and then on the Good Friday of the Passion of the Lord, the day when we commemorate our Lord Jesus Christ’s suffering and death on the Cross just before Easter. We are also called to Abstinence on those two same days, and all Fridays throughout the season of Lent and throughout the entire year. This practice of fasting as well as abstinence are all meant to help us to redirect our lives and attention towards the Lord and away from the many temptations and wickedness of sin and evil all around us.

In the past, the Church practiced a much stricter regime of fasting and abstinence than it is today, which is still actually practiced by our brethren in the Eastern Catholic Churches as well as our separated brethren in the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox faith. They fasted essentially for the entire season of Lent and adopted a stricter form of abstinence in which unlike our current practice of only not allowing the consumption of red meat in Abstinence, they all abstain from all consumption of meat and fish, and also even egg and milk during the whole duration of the season of Lent, in conjunction with fasting right up to the glorious moment of Easter Vigil. This practice of fasting did have its roots from the Jewish traditions and the customs of the Apostles and the early Church fathers, as a means to self-mortify one’s body and flesh so as to restrain the temptations of the flesh and the worldly pleasures, and help one to refocus their attention towards the Lord, as intended.

However, in its implementation, this practice of fasting had veered off from its original intent, as the people of God fasted and did all that was asked of them, but it had not been done with true sincerity and understanding of why the fasting was done in the first place. As the prophet Isaiah highlighted it in our first reading today, the Lord lamented the actions of the people who did not have true faith and commitment to Him, as they continued to act in ways that were contrary to His Law and commandments. The people complained that God did not notice their actions, their fasting and other faith practices, but God countered with the detailing of how they had not been sincere in living their lives with faith, as was evident in how they continued to sin even though they fasted, and did what the Law prescribed them to do.

It means that the people were only doing all those for maintaining superficial appearances and formality of obedience to God’s Law and commandments. They were merely going through the motions when they practiced fasting and other expressions of their faith, while their hearts, minds and souls, their bodies and whole beings were still enslaved to sin and evil. They still did things that were against the Law of God, in acting selfishly and in hurting others, in doing things that brought about scandal to the Lord and to His Holy Name, among other things. All these show us that it is indeed possible for one to do everything that has been told to him or her to do, obey the Law and commandments of God, and yet, remaining in the state of sin and separated from God, because he or she has no real and genuine faith in the Lord.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the Lord Jesus speaking to the disciples of St. John the Baptist who came to Him asking why the disciples of the Lord did not fast in the manner that they and the Pharisees had done, and the Lord responded that they would indeed fast at the right and appropriate time, when the Lord would be taken away from them. Not only that, but those who follow the Lord and call themselves as His disciples will give Him the kind of fast that He desires. It means that unlike the Pharisees or the disciples of St. John, especially that of the former, for which fasting means observing and being particular about the details and the rituals of fasting, rather than to focus on the reason and purpose why they fasted in the first place, the Lord’s followers ought to remind themselves of why they fast, and they should fast because they desire to become closer to the Lord.

Hence, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we continue to progress through this season of Lent, let us remind ourselves that as we fast, abstain or do whatever practices that we are going to do throughout the duration of this holy and blessed season, we ought to do them not because we seek fame or praise for our actions, or because we feel obliged to obey the rules and laws regarding the Lenten practices, be it by the Church or the practices within our parishes and communities. Instead, we should do everything because we truly desire to rend our hearts, our minds and souls, our whole being, regretting all the sins and wickedness that we have committed in life, and for all our disobedience against God and the lack of faith in Him. We should make good use of this season of Lent to draw ever closer to God and to follow Him more wholeheartedly.

That is why, brothers and sisters, all of us are called to do whatever we can, even in the smallest things we do, in what we say and how we interact with one another, in bringing God’s love and truth, His light and hope to the midst of our lives and our communities. Let us all be more loving and forgiving towards others, and be more generous in giving, of both time, attention and maybe material help, to all those around us who are in need. God has placed them in our reach because it is through us that He expected us to share our blessings and good things, to help those who are less fortunate. That is why we should not ignore the calling that God has given to each one of us, to be more loving and charitable, especially to those who are less fortunate than us, in whatever way it is. We must remember what the Lord Himself had told His disciples, that whatever we do for the sake of our brothers and sisters, who are least and last among us, we do it for the sake of the Lord Himself.

May all of us therefore continue to grow ever stronger in faith, draw closer to the Lord and do whatever we can so that this season of Lent will be truly meaningful and fruitful for us, in helping and leading us on our way and journey back towards the Lord. May all of us become sources of inspiration and strength to one another so that each and every one of us may become ever more committed and faithful to the Lord, and help many more souls on their way to salvation. May God bless us all in our Lenten journey, in our every good works and endeavours. Amen.

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