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Lent Retreat - Friday after Ash Wednesday

Friday, February 19, 2010
Readings: Isaiah 58: 1-9; Psalm 50 (51); Matthew 9: 14-15

As we enter these forty days of Lent, in which the Church calls us to penance in its threefold form of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, she reminds us in the liturgy of the true purpose of penance, and warns us against putting means (such as abstaining from food) above ends (turning towards the Lord).

So, in today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah, we hear him castigating the people for reducing penance to an outward act: they go around looking sad, and wearing sackcloth, but they still end up quarelling and fighting – their show of repentance does not reflect an actual change of heart. If there really had been such a change, he insists, they would not just be humiliating themselves. Rather, they would act in ways pleasing to the Lord, sharing food with the hungry and sheltering the homeless, for this is what penance is really about: turning towards the Lord, and acting in accordance with his will.

This is not to say that fasting is useless: far from it. We human beings need to have special ways of behaving in order to express, and to remind ourselves, that we have sinned and distanced ourselves from God – that, through our fault, the Bridegroom is taken away from us. But this must never be something we do for its own sake: instead, it must be a sign of and an encouragement towards that inner conversion by which, in the course of this Lent, we may realize that the Bridegroom is not gone for ever but rather, through his Passion and death has brought us close to him despite our sins. Thus, through our Lenten penance, may the Lord bring us to celebrate with greater joy the Paschal Feast of Christ’s victory over sin and death.

Gregory Pearson OP


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