Friday, February 08, 2008

Friday after Ash Wednesday
Enjoying Your Coffee

Readings: Isaiah 58:1-9a; Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 18-19; Matthew 9:14-15

Today being a Friday in Lent, many of us will be abstaining from meat. Some will even be fasting in some way. Which is why our Mass readings are so appropriate. They help us to reflect more deeply on what we are doing. They invite us to examine carefully the meaning behind our Lenten discipline.

Shortly, as we begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we will be using the first Preface for Lent. In this prayer, Lent is described as a joyful season. What do you think about that? Is Lent really joyful? How so? How can it be joyful to forgo the things that we like and even to go hungry? To answer these questions, it might be helpful to consider something someone once told me. Some of you may already know this. Do you know what is the meaning of joy? J-O-Y means to put Jesus first, others second, and yourself last. Perhaps this sounds too simplistic. Perhaps it needs more explanation. But still, it does express a deep truth, at least if today’s readings are anything to go by.

Probably the first striking thing about our readings today is how the people in the first reading are scolded for their fasting, while those in the second are defended in their failure to fast. Let us consider the second group first. Why does Jesus defend his disciples when they fail to fast? Clearly fasting is not an end in itself. Fasting is meant to achieve a specific purpose, one that Jesus is careful to point out to his opponents. The disciples do not have to fast because Jesus is with them, just as wedding guests do not fast when the bridegroom is with them. This implies that fasting is meant to help us to meet Jesus, to recognize him, to love him and to follow him closely as he takes the road toward Good Friday and Easter Sunday. To fast is learn to put Jesus first.

And why, on the other hand, are the people in the first reading scolded for fasting? Again, the reason is clear. They are scolded because their fasting is more an exercise of self-seeking than of self-denial. Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits… your fast ends in quarreling and fighting… They put themselves first and forget the needs of others. Instead, through the prophet, God urges them to put others first by engaging in acts of justice and mercy, releasing those bound unjustly… setting free the oppressed… sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the… homeless; clothing the naked… Only when they learn to fast in this way, will they experience the glory of the Lord. Only when they learn to deny themselves and to consider first the needs of others, will they come to experience true joy.

J-O-Y means putting Jesus first, others second, and yourself last.

The story is told of someone who went to many doctors but could not find relief from his ailment. Although he loved to drink coffee, he could not really enjoy it as much as he wished because every time he tried to drink it he experienced a sharp pain in his eye. Then one day he met someone who was able to diagnose the source of his problem. The next time you drink your cup of coffee, she told him, first be sure to remove the spoon.

Perhaps this is what Lent is about. Through our discipline of prayer and fasting and almsgiving, we are trying to allow God to remove the spoon of selfishness from the cup of our lives, we are trying to learn to put Jesus and others ahead of ourselves, so that we may truly learn to experience the Easter joy that is the gift of the Crucified and Risen Christ.

How does the Lord wish to help you remove your spoon today?

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