Our Lord, Jesus of Nazareth, was formed in the living and written tradition of Mosaic Law and the writings of the prophets. In his public ministry, as told by the four Gospels, he would use the words of the prophets to underscore his proclamation of the Kingdom of His Father. At the beginning of holy Lent, the Church offers a pericope [extract] from the Book of Isaiah that images the life of Jesus. As this reading must have formed the Lord Jesus as he grew up in Nazareth, may it continue our formation as missionary disciples of the Lord Jesus and as Ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.
As you read the words of Isaiah that follow (Isaiah 58. 4b to 8a), ask the Holy Spirit that dwells within you to open your mind and heart to the will of God, our Father. God speaks through Isaiah, exhorting us: would that TODAY you might fast as to make your voice heard on high! Is this the manner of fasting I wish…that a man bows his head like a reed, and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? This rather is the fast 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. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall be quickly healed.
Holy Lent is all about conversion of heart (repentance, metanoia). Jesus began his public ministry with this call….change your heart…leave sin behind….seek God’s will and live for God and for neighbor. We have three traditional spiritual disciplines for our Lenten journey…towards the Passion and Easter. These three disciplines are an intensified prayer life, bodily fasting and the works of mercy (both the corporal and the spiritual works of mercy).
These three spiritual and bodily disciplines are to bring the mind and heart together, in recognizing where we have fallen short of God’s plan for us (our sin) and what will bring us true happiness…saying YES to God’s will for us. This we do…by following the Way of the Lord Jesus.
A great saint, the Bishop John Chrysostom (d.407) teaches us that there are five aspects of repentance….our conversion of heart. He suggests these for us: (1) to recognize and condemn our own sinfulness (2) to seek to forgive and forget the wrongs that others have done against us (3) fervent, heart-felt prayer (4) almsgiving, and (5) to live a modest and humble life.
So my friends, as we begin this pilgrimage of holy Lent, looking forward, toward the celebration of His Passion and His Resurrection, let us intensify our prayer. Let us use the bodily discipline of fasting. Let us seek to do both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. I will take on these three disciplines and I will remember the teaching of St. John Chrysostom…and I ask each of you reading this column to join me with these Lenten disciplines…for one purpose…to free our hearts that we may love God and love neighbor…in the way Jesus lived and lives.
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam
(For The Greater Glory of God)