Isaiah 58:1-9a (NRSVCE)
“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
These are questions we often make of God. We feel as if we are sacrificing so much, and yet seem to get no response from Him. Even if we approach fasting in earnest, it can often feel like we are doing it for nothing. Why don’t I hear from God, when I desire him so much? “Yet day after day they seek me . . . they delight to draw near to God.”
The answer given is quite simple: we often don’t understand what the purpose of fasting is. We sacrifice, but are we sacrificing for the right things, or are we merely sacrificing for our own ends? “Look, you serve your own interests on your fast day”. I will use myself as an example here. I am giving up video games for Lent. But am I really doing that for God? Does that accomplish what God desires from us in a fast? No. It serves my own ends. I have a lot of work to get done, and video games were distracting me. There is no sense in which fasting from video games can help to accomplish any of the things laid out in this passage. It won’t help me feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the naked, or “loose the bonds of injustice”. It’s self-serving. So should I really be surprised that when I cry out to God for help He does not answer?
Now, I want to be a bit more careful here. If you’ve been reading these reflections, you know I talked about how important it is to try make room in our lives for Christ. “Make way for the King.” And giving up something like video games can certainly accomplish that, if approached in the right way and not simply for self-serving ends. But it’s not about cutting things out of your life. It’s about doing the work of the Kingdom. It’s about living the Gospel. Jesus spent his time with sinners. He healed the sick. He fed the hungry. Is it any wonder that he should ask the same of us?
It’s precisely through living the Gospel in our fasts that we please God. “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly.” God is pleased not because we humble ourselves in penance. He is pleased when we allow Him to transform us, through fasting and penance, into one who builds His Kingdom. So this Lent, don’t focus on how you are going to manage not having chocolate for forty days. Focus on the reason for your fast. Focus on Christ. Allow Him to transform you into a Child of God.
“Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say,
Here I am.”