The words of the first reading from Isaiah 58:1-9 are like brilliant beams of light, cutting through any false notions we might have about this season of repentance that we call Lent.
Often we tend to think of Lent as a time to share in the suffering of Christ yet when we do so, we become morose and end up centering more on our own sacrificial devotions than on God.
Lent is not meant for merely dramatic acts of fasting and penance. Through Isaiah, God asks His people the following:
Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: That a man bow his head like a reed and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?
God answers this rhetorical question with a resounding, “NO.” Our Father is not interested in such spectacles which simply focus on ourselves and our sins. As mortals, we are all the same. As St. Paul says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans: 3:23). This fact is a given. The truly repentant man is described in today’s Psalm.
A repentant man is contrite, humbly acknowledging his sin in simplicity, trusting more in God’s mercy than any of his own heroic acts of supposed repentance. He is not concerned with mere outer actions of repentance like sacrifices but on our inner attitude. Only a humble and contrite heart will do.
Not only is God looking for an attitude of true humility, he also desires positive action. We all fall into the dubious habit of asking, “So, what are you giving up for Lent this year?” Isaiah is quite clear that we are asking the wrong question:
This, rather, 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.
In these first days of Lent, the Church shows us exactly how God wants us to pray. fast and serve both His people and worship Him.