Each time we approach anew the season of Lent, our thoughts often move quickly to the question, “What practices shall I concentrate on during Lent?” or, “From what shall I fast?”
In the reading on the first Friday in Lent, Isaiah 58 speaks of the inadequate observance of fasting carried out by the people, and conveyed a different challenge to them:
“This is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”
The problems of injustice faced in the time of Isaiah continue during our time though sometimes in a different form. How do we translate these words into practices that are meaningful for us today? Perhaps each of us could rewrite the words above to fit our current situation, e.g.:
“This is the fasting that I wish: writing a letter to a prisoner or visiting an elder who is homebound; forgiving a wrong done by another, freeing the other and yourself; dropping off food at the food pantry or clothing and useful items for those in transitional housing; practicing patience with those with whom you live and work.”
Prophets denounced the abuses of their day, but they also provided hope for the people, spoke of divine intervention, and told of good news for the poor. Isaiah makes this promise to those who would follow his advice:
“Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!”
What more could we desire than this promise of God’s love and compassion to sustain us throughout our Lenten journey as we prepare for the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ?
May you have a fruitful, and loving, Lent.