Going back to what I was saying yesterday about picking up things for Lent, instead of just giving up things, the first reading in the Office of Readings for today is a very salutary passage from Isaiah, where the Prophet speaks of the nature of fasting, and reflects on what really pleases God :
5 Is that the sort of fast that pleases me, a day when a person inflicts pain on himself ? Hanging your head like a reed, spreading out sackcloth and ashes ? Is that what you call fasting, a day acceptable to the Lord ?
6 Is not this the sort of fast that pleases me : to break unjust fetters, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break all yokes ?
7 Is it not sharing your food with the hungry, and sheltering the homeless poor; if you see someone lacking clothes, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own kin ?
It seems to me that this is making the point that, whilst depriving yourself may be beneficial as a way of conquering one's self-centredness, what the Lord wants is for us to make His world a better place during Lent - and just look what He promises to those who do that :
8 Then your light will blaze out like the dawn and your wound be quickly healed over. Saving justice will go ahead of you and the Lord’s glory come behind you.
9 Then you will cry for help and the Lord will answer; you will call and he will say, ‘I am here.’ If you do away with the yoke, the clenched fist and malicious words,
10 if you deprive yourself for the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, your light will rise in the darkness, and your darkest hour will be like noon.
11 The Lord will always guide you, will satisfy your needs in the scorched land; he will give strength to your bones and you will be like a watered garden, like a flowing spring whose waters never run dry.
At some point today most (I hope) of us will feel the grittiness of ash on our heads, and hear the words ‘Remember, Man, that you are dust, and to dust will you return’; a sacramental which is intended to remind us of the transient nature of earthly life, and the need to change our lives whilst - as I said yesterday - there is yet time.
The Lord offers us the promise not only of eternal life, but of Paradise - the ‘watered garden’- if we ‘Repent, and believe the Gospel’, and make His world the world He wants it to be : and however much of a drag we may find the forty days of Lent, for making a new self - let alone a new world - there is scarcely time enough.
Today, then, and for the next forty days, let us take the words of Isaiah to heart and try to ensure that at the end of this Lent, at least, the world is a little bit better for our fast.