Friday after Ash Wednesday
Isaiah 58:1-9 + Matthew 9:14-15
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit ….
Both John the Baptist’s disciples in the Gospel Reading and the house of Jacob in the First Reading are thoroughly focused upon themselves. The people of the house of Jacob seem to be fasting as a way of gaining leverage in their negotiations with God. John’s disciples want to know why Jesus’ disciples don’t have to fast in the same way they do.
In both readings God is trying to make clear what the purpose of fasting (or, in fact, any type of penance) is. On the surface, when we fast we are imitating Christ, who fasted for forty days in the desert. Whenever we carry out works of penance by denying something we want, we are imitating Christ who denied his own life for our sake.
But on a deeper level, through our penance we are clearing out our souls. We are clearing out of our soul those desires which serve only ourselves. The more and more we remove these desires, the more room there is in our soul for the desires of God, the fruit of which are the works that He wants to accomplish within us and through us.
Lent is about preparing our souls to accept the Cross of Christ in our own lives. When we seek to follow in the footsteps of Christ, we ourselves are led to Calvary, where with Mary and the apostle John we gaze upon our God who died for us. At the foot of the cross we learn humility and gratitude for the sacrifice Christ made on the Cross for us.