Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures and as we embark on this journey of the Lenten season, all of us are called to remember why we observe this season of Lent, with plenty of fasting, abstinence and almsgiving. We are reminded that all that we have done, we did them not for ourselves or for our own satisfaction and convenience. All of these we have done because we desire to seek the Lord and to be forgiven from our many sins and faults, to be reconciled fully with our most loving and compassionate God.
In our first reading today, we heard from the prophet Isaiah, the words of the Lord chastising His people in the kingdom of Judah, where Isaiah was ministering in. The Lord chastised His people because they had not truly been faithful to Him, and those who professed to be faithful, did not truly follow Him in the way that they should have, as they merely paid lip service through their actions. It was mentioned how they fasted and yet at the same time, they oppressed the weak and the poor, bringing sorrow and hardships to others, all for their own personal benefits and glory.
This was what the Lord chastised His people for, which was their attitude that did not reflect true faith and commitment in the Lord and His path. He told them that they could not profess to believe in Him and yet, acted in ways contrary to what they have believed in. Otherwise, they would be hypocrites and lacking in true faith. They have to be truly faithful and not just doing things and obeying the rules and laws just for the sake of obeying them. If they fasted and yet, they bickered and oppressed others who were less fortunate, then whatever virtues and good things they have gained would have been nulled by the wickedness they committed.
In our Gospel passage today, we heard the Lord speaking to the disciples of St. John the Baptist who came to Him asking why His disciples did not fast the same way that they and the Pharisees had fasted. Contextually, we have to understand that the disciples of St. John and especially the Pharisees had followed a very strict interpretation of the Jewish laws and customs, and which particularly for the Pharisees, they took great emphasis and care in enforcing that fast and how the fast were to be done, and criticised all others who did not fast the way that they had done it.
This was where the Pharisees had ended up losing sight on the true intention and meaning of fasting, of why fasting was done in the first place. For as the Lord Himself had said in our first reading today, if we fasted and then yet, we oppressed, persecuted and made others’ life difficult, through how the Pharisees had criticised and persecuted the Lord, His disciples and the other people, then what they had done were not in accordance with God, His teachings and truth. They did not fast as how the Lord wanted them to fast.
For their fasting ended up serving their own desires, in wanting to be recognised and praised for their own piety, in their faith and virtues. They sought that glory and worldly fame, attention, influence and other things, that they ended up forgetting why they ought to have fasted, which was in fact contrary to what they had done. Fasting was meant to curb all those desires instead of embracing them, and fasting was meant to bring one closer to God and help one to focus on God rather than to end up focusing more on oneself and their own’s selfish desires.
That is why, today as we remember these words from the Scriptures, all of us are yet again reminded that in our Lenten practices and observances, we must not do them blindly and without understanding their true significance and importance. It means that we should not just fasted and abstained from meat like for example on this day, being a Friday, on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and any other Fridays, but we have to have an interior conversion and change of heart and mind. For fasting and abstinence must not just be an end on themselves, but they must lead to a genuine conversion and change of heart.
It means that we have to grow ever more in our faith in the Lord, and be sincere in our desire to follow the Lord. We must not merely pay lip service in our faith, and this Lent should be a great opportunity for us to embrace the Lord and His mercy and love. This Lenten season should be a time for us to grow more in humility and in our relationship with God rather than for us to show off our faith with pride or worse still, for us to compare with one another who is being more worthy and holier in our ways before the Lord.
Today we should be inspired instead by the good examples set by our predecessors, especially that of St. Casimir, whose feast we are celebrating today. St. Casimir was a prince of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania in the late Middle Ages, the second son of the King of Poland-Lithuania. Even in his youth, he was renowned for his great piety and faith in God, in his many charitable and generous actions for the poor and the sick, as he dedicated himself to the care of the less privileged. He also dedicated himself to a life of virtue and holiness, not indulging in the excesses of worldly living as what many of the royalty and nobles at that time often enjoyed.
Through his faith, life and dedication, St. Casimir, faithful servant of God has shown us all how we can also be faithful to the Lord in our own actions. Are we then willing and able to commit ourselves to the Lord in the same way, brothers and sisters in Christ? Can we be more humble in life, recognising our sinfulness and our vulnerabilities and weaknesses, and at the same time also growing ever more generous in loving and giving to others, in the manner that St. Casimir and many others of our holy predecessors had done?
Let us all make great use of this blessed time of Lent for us to reorientate our lives back towards the Lord, to return to Him and to embrace Him with genuine love once again. Let us all turn towards Him with faith, and commit ourselves to a new life of virtue and faith, renewed with zeal and courage, to take up our crosses in life and following the Lord, walking in the path that He has shown us all. May the Lord continue to guide us and strengthen us, and may He empower us all to be able to serve Him at all times, through our lives and examples. Amen.