True Fasting

A reflection on Lenten fasting by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

Bowl of ashes we used on Ash Wednesday

“See, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers. See, you fast only to quarrel and fight, and to strike with a wicked fist!… Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke? Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own?”

Isaiah 58:3-8

There are so many ways we can apply this reading from Isaiah to our lives. Here are just a few examples that came to my mind as I was thinking about this idea of holy fasting:

Releasing those bound unjustly. This can be anyone you judge in your heart and are holding a grudge against. There’s one to release!

Untying the thongs of the yoke and setting free the oppressed. There are many behaviors by which we can yoke each other. Emotional behaviors that harm others or leave them feeling oppressed can be lifted. We’ve all been guilty of that passive aggressive attitude where we’re angry and we want someone to know it—without saying a word we are loud and clear. Do we really need to do that? Over time we learn that we are called to bear the yoke ourselves and not place it on another. We can bear a little bit for one another. Don’t I love you enough to bear a little more? That’s really what strengthens the heart and the soul—being able to bear the brunt for another, because you can be assured that others are bearing the brunt for you too. 

Sharing your bread with the hungry. Your good word can truly feed another, in person or through prayer.

Sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked. Don’t stare at the weaknesses of others and then tell them about it. Rather, clothe them with prayer and with your good will for them.

And don’t turn your back on your own. Help your neighbor; and I don’t mean only your neighbor. I knew a family who used to be so eager and ready to help their neighbors—mowing their lawn, weeding their yard—while the weeds in their own yard were six feet tall. So you can always look around your own house for little ways to help and serve your own, too. Let us strive to be a blessing for one another.