Wednesday, February 29, 2012

It is not so much that we do penance for Lent; the penance is to turn our hearts to God

By Monsignor H. Gerald McSorley

The prophets of the Old Testament were men who sought to call the people and the nation back to the right path --- to God's ways. And so they weren't very popular frequently with the leaders of the country, because they challenged them and challenged their policies and challenged them to seek the way of God.

We have words of the prophet Isaiah speaking, not to the leaders of the people, but to everyone, and especially to those who were in power in one way or another, to look at what they had in their hearts. The complaint is from the people: "We do all these things, we fast and God doesn't seem to respond." The prophet says, the problem is, everything you do is external and it doesn't have any value because it's not accompanied by a heart that is turned to God, turned to the needy, turned to real conversion. So the prophet goes on to explain that along with fasting and penances of various kinds, the people must pay attention to justice, how they treat others, especially the poor and the powerless. There is a list of things they should pay attention to, and they reflect, really, the corporal works of mercy.

So for us as we enter Lent, it's a time to reflect not only on the call of the church to do penance of one kind or another, but the purpose of the penance is to turn our hearts to God and to others so that we do justice, that we remember the needs of others and our responsibility to reach out and to help others. We're called to make this Lent a time to look into our hearts and our attitudes and, with the grace of God, to make changes.

Jesus responded to the complaint that his disciples weren't fasting like the disciples of the Pharisees and so forth; and Jesus responds that they will fast, they will suffer later, but not now.

I read this brief reflection today, it's from the Magnificat: "Fasting is a form of self-deprivation that deepens our appreciation of and longing for the food that we really need. Christ's disciples do not fast because they have given themselves over to Jesus who is their food. We fast in order to seek him day after day and to desire more to know his ways."

We fast so that this Lent Christ will become our all.

Monsignor H. Gerald McSorley is St. Bernard pastor emeritus. Reach him at (323) 255-6142.

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