MARCH 5, 2003, ASH-WEDNESDAY: HOMILY
WHEN YOU FAST YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN, WHO SEES IN SECRET, WILL REWARD YOU. (Matthew 6:16, 18) Significantly, Jesus takes it for granted that his followers will practice fasting at times. He does not say if you should fast but when you fast and then goes on to advise that they make sure their motivation is that of pleasing God, and that they avoid any desire to make an impression on others. Not only by words did our Lord recommend fasting to his disciples; he prepared for his active ministry of preaching and healing by a forty day fast undertaken in solitude. In fact, the reason why Lent provides for a forty-day period of fasting is precisely in order to encourage the faithful to imitate Jesus example. Thus, there is an eminently personal reason for undertaking the observance of Lent with its corporal as well as spiritual practices. That reason is an interior and spiritual one: we are seeking to be in some small measure at least, like our Lord in order that we might belong to him more fully.
This is not a minor consideration to hold before our minds eye as we begin this holy season of prayer and penance. To draw near to our Lord, to serve him more faithfully and to be more intimately united with him is our aim and it is this purpose which must determine our manner of observing the practices of this season. Our Savior told his apostles quite explicitly that he did all things in union with his Father; he observed on one occasion that to do his Fathers will was his very food. When he appeared to his inner circle of followers after his resurrection he told them he gave them peace as his gift. This peace, which has been transmitted to us through the word and the sacraments, consists in the favor of the Father by means of the reconciliation effected by the mission, the suffering and death of Jesus. What we must attempt to realize in our lives is a fuller purity of heart that extends to all our acts and all our relationships so that the bond of peace that unites us with God grows stronger and extends to all of those who belong to him.
The final aim of self denial and of a more intense prayer life is not achieved until the various virtues that mark our observance serve to strengthen the love of God and of those men and women whom God created for himself. This is the way to fulfill the injunction of Jesus to cleanse the interior of our heart and to watch the thoughts that arise within us so that they do not defile the inner person. His concern is for the right direction of the will and the affections so that we truly are modeled after his own relationship to the Father. Lent is a season for this work of the inner man, that St. Paul was concerned for, and which was the focus of Jesus preaching and the force of his example. Let us so enter upon this period of penance, holy reading and of prayer that we grow in pure love of the Savior who gave himself for us and seeks to bring us all together into the kingdom of his Father in heaven.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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