Homily for the Friday after Ash Wednesday
There is a time for rejoicing, and a time for fasting. Jesus points this out in the Gospel reading today, and says that the wedding guests will fast when the bridegroom is taken away from them. The bridegroom is Christ, we are the guests, and during the period of Lent we focus on the suffering and death of Christ for our sake, and on how we exclude Him from our lives at times through sin. Now is the time for fasting.
We are not obliged to fast in the strict sense of the word every day of Lent, as we are on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but we are encouraged to practice various forms of sacrifice and penance throughout Lent. Cutting back on food is certainly one option, and that’s the basis of our tradition of “giving something up for Lent.”
However, the first reading today helps us to understand that those kinds of privations are not necessarily helpful. We can easily end up fulfilling them merely as a formality, only out of a sense of duty or tradition, in which case they are of little value. God prefers that we start off by fighting sin in our lives and being more just and generous with others. In other words, there’s no spiritual advantage in giving up TV or chocolate for forty days if we turn around and gossip about our neighbors, or use our resources wastefully or selfishly while surrounded by people in need. God doesn’t want a change in our routine for its own sake; He wants a change of heart, that will lead to a change in our habits.
It’s good to have some fairly concrete and tangible sacrifice to offer in reparation for our sins, like giving up some food or activity that we enjoy. However, we should not forget to do something more profound that connects more directly with the meaning of Lent by seeking to be more like Christ, seeking to overcome sinful habits and to build up the virtue of self-sacrificing love for God and for others.
May God help us to live Lent with this attitude, so that, as Isaiah foretold, our “light shall break forth like the dawn, and [our] wound shall be quickly healed; [our] vindication shall go before [us], and the glory of the Lord shall be [our] rear guard.”