On Fasting

25 November 1990

In the Name of the Father,  the Son and the Holy Ghost.  

In today’s Gospel we hear the Lord saying to each of us that our neighbour is not the one whom we like, not even the one whom we love; it is the one who needs us, whether he likes us or not, and that it is to him that we must turn in companion, in charity, as indeed the Lord God Himself turned to us at the moment when the whole of mankind was alien to Him; and again, turns to  e a c h  of us at the moment when we are at rock bottom, when we are as far away from Him as we can only imagine, indeed:  m u c h  farther, because only God can measure the distance that separates us from our being in Him, with Him,  the distance which measures His absence from our life.

We are coming on Tuesday to the beginning of fasting time that prepares us for Christmas; many will turn to fasting, eat those things which are appointed by the Church; but is  t h a t  the fast which God wishes us to keep? Listen to what the Lord said to the Hebrews from the lips of Isaiah the Prophet:

«Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show My people their transgressions; they say that seek Me daily, and they would like to know My ways, they say, as though they were a nation that did righteousness, forethought  not the ordinance of their God. ‘Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and Thou seeth not? Wherefore have we afflicted our soul and Thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exact all your labours! Behold, you fast while strifing and debating, you smite with the fist of wickedness! You shall not fast as you do this day,  to make your voice to be heard on high. Is it such a fast that I have chosen? A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Wilt thou call  t h i s  a fast, acceptable day to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I have chosen: loose the bands of wickedness, undo the heavy burdens,   l e t  the oppressed go free, break every yoke! Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked that thou cover him? That thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?  T h e n  shall thy light break forth as the morning,  thine health shall sping forth speedily, thy righteousness shall go before thee and the glory of thy Lord shall be thy reward!»

Let us remember those words because more than ever in our time we must not fast hypocritically, not fast with false piety, but fast by turning away from every evil, from all evil, put right in our lives everything that has gone wrong.

Are we going to meet the day when the Lord, our God took flesh in order to enter into the realm of death, He Who is the Eternal One, the day when He chose to enter into the realm of suffering for our sakes — are we going to meet  t h i s  day by accepting to continue in our estrangement from Him? And we are estranged from Him when we hate our neighbour, when we reject our neighbour, when we refuse to forgive, when we turn away from him or her who is in need of our mercy — not only of bread, not only of shelter — indeed,  that also counts! — but in need of forgiveness, of the mercy of the heart! Are we going to meet the Lord who came to save sinners by rejecting whom  w e  consider as sinners, those who have offended us, those against whom   w e  have (fault?)? Can we meet the Lord on such   terms?

Let us think of the shepherds: they were simple people, unsophisticated, uncomplicated — only, their hearts were open to the extent to which it was possible to them they were clean, pure of heart, and therefore, they could hear the news of the Incarnation; they could hear and receive the news as the most wonderful thing that changed everything in their lives. We have been listening to the good news day in, day out, year after year — has it come to us as  g o o d  news that have transformed our lives, made us into people out of compare, people who are prepared to live and to die for those who hate, who reject, who ignore, who offend us? If we are not — it’s in vain that we speak of being Christian; he who does not love his brother is a  l i a r  when he says that he loves his God — these are the Apostle’s words.

Let us therefore enter into this period of fasting in earnest, stand in judgement before God to be judged by Him, and ask ourselves whether we could stand side by side with Him when others come to be judged, and step forward and say, ‘Lord! I have forgiven — Thou has no grudge against her, against him any more! Amen.