Thursday, March 6, 2014

Friday After Ash Wednesday

Am posting several hours before Friday officially begins.  I hope to be in bed well before midnight.  Will give this homily to the Carmelites of the Aged and Infirm in Framingham at 7:45 AM. 

Is 58:1-9a
Ps 51
Mt 90:14-15

Fasting.  Why do we fast?  What is it about humans that impels them to voluntarily forgo, or severely limit, food and drink?  Possible motivations include: asceticism, purification, mourning, and supplication.  Alas, in the U.S. the primary reason for fasting and other “penitential-like practices” is weight loss.  Sackcloth and ashes have been replaced by sweat suits, treadmills and the absurd "detox" routines being shilled by faded or fading Hollywood starlets needing attention.

Xavier Leon-Dufour notes, “occasions and motives are varied.  But it is always a question of establishing oneself with faith in an attitude of humility in order to receive the action of God and to place oneself in his presence.” 

On Wednesday we were told how to fast.  With a washed face.  And combed hair.  And, if not with a smile, at least without a scowl.  Today’s first reading reveals more about the proper attitude toward fasting.  Fasting should lead to conversion, not quarreling and fighting.  Fasting is not an end unto itself.  Fasting is a means.  The second half of the reading describes ways of fasting other than going without food.  A lot of people would probably rather go without food than change their behavior so radically that it might actually cost something. 

In the short reading from Matthew’s Gospel John’s disciples are confused.  We fast.  The Pharisees fast.  Your disciples don’t.  Typical human behavior.  I’m miserable.  Why aren’t you?  It reminds me of a great definition of an alcoholic:  A patient who drinks more than his doctor. 

But, this interchange between John’s disciples and Jesus highlights the dangers of fasting, pride and ostentation.  Fasting is not a competitive sport.  In his summary on fasting Leon-Dufour notes .“(the Church) seeks by the practice of fasting to place the faithful in an attitude of total openness to the grace of the Lord, while waiting for his return.”  With that attitude we can pray with the great Miserere::

"A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me . . . 
. . . O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall declare your praise."

Only when we can say the Miserere without equivocation can offer our sacrifice: A humbled and contrite heart. 
Long weekend.  Real long weekend.  Flew out of Boston on Thursday to officiate at a friend's wedding with plans to return on a 6:30 PM flight on Sunday.  The notification that the flight was cancelled arrived on Saturday night.  The e-mail went on to explain that I was booked on a 2:30 PM flight.  OK.  I can live with that though it did wreck plans to visit a friend.  Took rental car to airport at noon on Sunday.  Went to check-in desk.  I was booked on a flight at 2:30 to be sure.  On Tuesday.  Fortunately I was staying with Jesuits so I returned.  Apparently Jet Blue cancels early and often.  I had a place to go.  What of a tourist who finds himself stranded at an airport with no where to go and perhaps a few cranky kids?    

Got back to Boston on Tuesday at 4 PM.  Spent 1 1/2 hours getting to BC via subway despite terrific connections and a not particularly crowded train.  Boston made a huge mistake in not putting the entire subway system underground.  Riding the Green Line B train from Government Center to Boston College is a preview of purgatory.  Fortunately the suffering was eased with a pizza prior to going to Campion.  

The attached photos are all of the same thing, a busted rusted bicycle.  It was leaning against a wall in Sevenhill.  From its appearance it appears to have been leaning for several years.  If I had to choose I think I would prefer to shoot in black and white than color.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ MD

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