Today's reflection in the Magnificat is entitled "Why We Fast" by St. Thomas Aquinas. The ideas are very straightforward, but the ideas are also profound. My sleepy mind struggled this morning to comprehend what I was reading the first time, so I read the page a few times. Basically, St. Thomas describes the double nature of human beings--mental and physical. Our prayer, then, consists of mental and physical manifestations. We internally recognize God and externally pray, fast, adore, and praise. The external, however, essentially has little meaning without the internal. He says:
So, just as prayer has its origin as something in the mind, and is only in the second place expressed in words, adoration also consists, primarily and in its origin, in an internal reverence of God and only secondarily in certain bodily signs, for example, as genuflections to show our weakness by comparison with God, or prostrations to show that we are nothing ourselves.What does that mean for us on a practical level? The people in today's first reading from Isaiah 58:1-9 fulfill the external prescriptions of their fast day, but "carry out [their] own pursuits, and drive all [their] laborers. Yes, [their] fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw." The reading continues with the Lord telling them this type of fasting is superficial and unfruitful and not what he wants from them. He instead desires:
releasing those bound unjustly...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.The Lord tells us that when we fast and give alms in this way, from our internal desire for communion with Him, He "will answer" when "we cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!"
Therefore, let us consider our Lenten plans. Are we fasting from chocolate, social media, alcohol, television, or some other vice? These things are truly sacrifices! But what happens internally? Are you filling that space with prayer, spiritual reading, and growing closer to God. If so, you have begun a wonderful Lenten journey! On the other hand, as a response to the fast, are we quarreling and fighting? Do we look gloomy? If so, we must begin again internally, taking the prayer from inside and seeking God first to guide our Lenten disciplines.
On this First Friday of Lent, I encourage you to attend Mass, the Stations of the Cross, or both! Listen deeply to the scripture. Walk the road to Calvary with our Lord. Then ask his guidance for you this Lent.
Dear Heavenly Father,
What sacrifice of mine is most pleasing to you? How can I best serve others and grow closer to you this Lent? Let my sacrifice be pleasing to you. Let my joy this Lent draw me and others closer to you.