I was raised in a Southern Baptist tradition and didn’t know much about Lent until I took a world religions class in college. I know I am usually pretty goofy and love a good time, but in the same breath, I drink deeply the Word of God as it is the Power unto salvation, and hey, I need saving all the time!
As a young adult, with a fair amount of Catholic friends (we moved to St. Louis from Sand Springs, Ok) I discovered that regardless to how often, or not they frequented their local church , they were ALL very invested in the tradition of fasting for Lent. For many of them it was a carnal response of denying the indulgences in their life of alcohol consumption, sexual activity or meat on Fridays. I was fascinated by this tradition and started observing Lent and eventually had more of a revelation about fasting by reading the Word of God. The OT book of Isaiah really filled my heart up with a new passion for obeying God and His WORD.
Fasting is NOT my favorite discipline as it costs me everything, but I LOVE the result of the obedience factor and how God moves in my life and in my prayers during a time of fasting. For me, fasting has been varied, with sometimes a call to fast entertainment, coffee, soda, sweets or food altogether. Never easy and always requiring me to trust God to be my Strength. It’s like a “frenemy” (friend/enemy)
58 Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast; tell my people of their sins! 2 Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and are so delighted to hear the reading of my laws—just as though they would obey them—just as though they don’t despise the commandments of their God! How anxious they are to worship correctly; oh, how they love the Temple services!
3 “We have fasted before you,” they say. “Why aren’t you impressed? Why don’t you see our sacrifices? Why don’t you hear our prayers? We have done much penance, and you don’t even notice it!” I’ll tell you why! Because you are living in evil pleasure even while you are fasting, and you keep right on oppressing your workers. 4 Look, what good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. 5 Is this what I want—this doing of penance and bowing like reeds in the wind, putting on sackcloth and covering yourselves with ashes? Is this what you call fasting?
6 No, the kind of fast I want is that you stop oppressing those who work for you and treat them fairly and give them what they earn. 7 I want you to share your food with the hungry and bring right into your own homes those who are helpless, poor, and destitute. Clothe those who are cold, and don’t hide from relatives who need your help.
8 If you do these things, God will shed his own glorious light upon you. He will heal you; your godliness will lead you forward, goodness will be a shield before you, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. 9 Then, when you call, the Lord will answer. “Yes, I am here,” he will quickly reply. All you need to do is to stop oppressing the weak and stop making false accusations and spreading vicious rumors!
10 Feed the hungry! Help those in trouble! Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you shall be as bright as day. 11 And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy you with all good things, and keep you healthy too; and you will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. 12 Your sons will rebuild the long-deserted ruins of your cities, and you will be known as “The People Who Rebuild Their Walls and Cities.”
13 If you keep the Sabbath holy, not having your own fun and business on that day, but enjoying the Sabbath, speaking of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day, and honoring the Lord in what you do, not following your own desires and pleasure nor talking idly— 14 then the Lord will be your delight, and I will see to it that you ride high and get your full share of the blessings I promised to Jacob, your father. The Lord has spoken.
Living Bible (TLB)
“No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”*
But this isn’t to downplay the role of sacrifice during the Lenten season. Lent is a good time for penance and self-denial. But once again, Francis reminds us that these activities must truly enrich others: “I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.”
So as we enter this season, focusing on the accomplished work of Jesus on the cross and Resurrection Sunday, let’s considerour part in doing the work of the Kingdom of God and btw, water tastes better with lemon…just a tip 🙂
* John Chrysostom