Give Away What You’ve Given Up
Homily for Friday after Ash Wednesday
Preached on February 19, 2010 at Holy Spirit Parish/The Newman Center at the University of Kentucky, Lexington KY
Readings: Isaiah 58:1-9a; Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 18-19; Matthew 9:14-15
What did you give up for Lent? That’s the question you’ll hear among Catholics during this season. The replies you will get are legion, ranging from food items (chocolate and sweets) to activities (Facebook and watching TV) to bad habits (smoking and tardiness). But the prophet Isaiah also warns us not to fast just for the sake of fasting, not to give up this or that just because it’s the Lenten thing to do. A bowed head and a bed of sackcloth and ashes is not the manner of fasting that God wishes from us (cf. Is. 58:5). God is neither a terrifying trainer forcing us into a forty day diet nor a terrorist inflicting upon us a forty day torture. The truth is that God does not ask us to give up things to make us bitter. God asks us to give up things to help us be better.
Each year [God gives] us this joyful season (cf. Preface of Lent I) to invite us to be better but also to share with us the work of helping the lives of the least among us be better. This, Isaiah tells us, is the manner of fasting the Lord wishes: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke, setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke, sharing [our] bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;, clothing the naked when [we] see them, …not turning [our] back on [our] own (Is. 58:6-7). Fasting, you see, can never be separated from charity. We are called to give up things so that we will have more to give away. We give up food items so that there’s more food that we could share with the hungry. We give up activities so that there’s more time that we could spare for those in need. We give up our bad habits so that we can nurture in us the good that God has given us and thereby make us keener in recognizing that same goodness hidden within our neighbor.
Forty days seems like a long time to give up something, but it’s long enough to give away what we could live without to those who daily go without, and make a difference.