FASTING – GOD’S WAY
Lent is here and it’s a good time to offer some thoughts to take us into this penitential period. Traditionally, the Church prescribes extra prayer, fasting and almsgiving as a token of Lenten sincerity and as an act of compassion. As Charismatic Catholics, we are well used to practicing these disciplines: praying regularly, incorporating fasting for specific intercessory outcomes and tithing or planned giving. Lent is a time for deepening our resolve.
In Isaiah 58, we read how the prophet did not mince his words! I realise it’s one of the most overlooked or ‘unpacked’ passages in the Bible. I suspect we only hear the encouraging promises in verses 8-9,11-12, and fail to understand the text’s implications. In my own journey, the Holy Spirit over the years began to awaken my heart to the plight of the oppressed globally, as I began to unpack Isaiah’s prophesy.
What a startling reality: No longer is my neighbour just another person in my prayer group, town, or country. My neighbour is everyone on the planet, and more.
A Hindu peasant in the slums of India, Islamic refugees escaping oppressive governments, women and children who are trafficked, animals that are farmed with cruelty, ecosystems experiencing debilitating effects of carbon emission – indeed the very earth itself is my neighbour.
I am being drawn to a deeper understanding of Isaiah 58, and I see it very differently now.
Unpacking The Revelation
The dire global circumstances we are in, cause us to feel grief-stricken, overwhelmed and powerless.
How can this Scripture inform and guide us in this overwhelming task, as individuals and collectively as women who are baptised of the Spirit? In what way can fasting help to resolve the present ills of the world right now?
In verses 6-7, Isaiah lays down the keys as he sketches plainly how to fast in a way pleasing to God. We are to: loose the chains of injustice, set the oppressed free, share food with the hungry, shelter the homeless, and clothe the naked. Some of these objectives are hard to accomplish in my small middle-class corner of the world where injustice, greed and oppression are so carefully hidden from sight.
Although we may occasionally fall into the trap of malicious talk and finger pointing, most of us would never consciously participate in moral corruption and greed, profit at the expense of human lives and of our planet. But do we not participate in systemic sin one way or another, albeit unwittingly? How many of us are aware of its insidious claws embedded in our culture? How many of us are informed about the damage done to humanity in the name of convenience and lifestyle? Are we informed about how our Investment Portfolio or bank savings invest our money? Do our savings support war because many financial institutions still invest in weapons? Are we aware of the extent to which mass farming productions keep workers poor? These are only a couple of examples.
Jesus Himself took the call of Isaiah 58 very seriously. Luke 4:16-19, is generally referred to by scholars as Jesus’ inauguration speech or perhaps more pertinently, His own declaration of mission. Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah, and He chooses the first two verses of Isaiah 61, then instead of verse 3, He reverts back to chapter 58:6 ‘to set the downtrodden free.’ Who are the downtrodden? Anyone who is oppressed.
Jesus is announcing that compassion and social justice is His central message.
Making A Difference
How then, can we respond to this Gospel message? Perhaps we could try something different this Lent. We could investigate systemic sin. Alone or in small groups, we could research an issue that touches our heart. For example, one may explore the damage soy farming is doing to land and people in the Amazon. Another can investigate human trafficking. Still another, living wages, fair trade organisations, clothing and textile industry, sweat shops such as nail painting or massage salons, the beauty industry, ethical finance companies etc. Each person might then share their learnings and insights with the group. It is said ‘knowledge is power’ – we might also rely on Church teaching which urges us to have an ‘informed’ conscience.
But then what? We can’t change everything. No, but each person can take on a particular cause, and refuse to buy into that system – a form of fasting according to God’s heart. It may be something small, like only consuming Fair-Trade coffee; it may be changing our Investment Portfolios to ethical companies (even though the fees are higher); it may be buying less clothing so we can pay a bit extra on ethical clothing. The possibilities are endless. The Spirit may nudge us to join organisations that oppose these systems. There’s power in numbers. This too is fasting God’s way.
Yes, this effort seems like a drop in the ocean. But I am heartened by a modern parable: a man was walking the beach, where thousands of starfish had washed ashore. As he walked, he picked some up and threw them into the sea. He encountered another man who scoffed “What are you doing? That won’t make a bit of difference!” Starfish in hand, the man threw it into the sea and replied “well it did to that one!”
Small actions can make global changes – the life of Jesus demonstrates that – one man started out, and more than 2,000 years on, He’s still making an impact. We can too. As Australian singer Paul Kelly sings “from little things, big things grow’.
It’s clear that God insists on social responsibility. The time to act is now. Then the promises in Isaiah 58 will come to pass. Then our healing will quickly appear; the Lord will guide us continually and satisfy and strengthen us; then we will be like a well-watered garden, we will rebuild and restore ancient ruins.
The Time is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage – Sister Joan Chittister
Let Us Dream – Pope Francis
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maureen O’Halloran is a consecrated lay woman living in Tasmania, Australia. She served in CCR leadership at State and National levels for over 20 years. She is currently an accredited spiritual director of 17 years, and also has a certificate in Spiritual Mentoring. Maureen has a Master’s degree in Theology with a specialisation in Spirituality. She has been employed as a Coordinator in a Women’s Shelter for the past 40 years. She can be contacted via email: firstname.lastname@example.org