Thursday, March 02, 2017

Friday after Ash Wednesday

(Optional Memorial for St. Katharine Drexel, Virgin)
Alternate Readings for St. Katharine’s Memorial
may be taken from The Common of Virgins
“Chained Prisoner” 
by Francisco de Goya Y Lucentes, 1806-12
Reading I: Isaiah 58:1-9a
Commentary on Is58:1-9a
This passage is from what is known as Deutero-Isaiah. It was written in the latter part of the Babylonian exile (700 BC). The prophet begins this passage with a recounting of God’s call to him and his mission statement: “Tell my people their wickedness, and the house of Jacob their sins.” Better is the Jerusalem Bible translation: “Proclaim their faults to my people, their sins to the House of Jacob,” or the Revised Standard Version [Navarre] “…declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.
Isaiah’s lament continues as he chastises the people for missing the point of their fasts of atonement. They perform the rituals and follow the law but then violate the spirit of God’s Law by being uncaring and cruel to each other.
Finally the prophet explains the spirit of the law, what that it is, and how it is to impact their actions. He closes with a description of the reward for following the spirit of God’s Law: “Your integrity will go before you and the glory of the Lord behind you. Cry, and the Lord will answer; call, and he will say, ‘I am here.’”
CCC: Is 58:6-7 2447
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 18-19
R. (19b) A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
Commentary on Ps51:3-4, 5-6ab, 18-19
Psalm 51, the most famous of the seven penitential psalms, repeats the sentiment expressed in Isaiah regarding the need for heartfelt repentance on the part of the faithful. It goes on to emphasize the need for forgiveness. The final strophe is parallel to Isaiah’s description of the acceptable fast in Isaiah 58:6-7.
CCC: Ps 51:6 431, 1850; Ps 51:19 1428, 2100
Gospel: Matthew 9:14-15
Commentary on Mt9:14-15
Jesus is challenged by the disciples of John the Baptist and asked why his disciples do not keep the ritual fasts of Pharisaic Law. (According to the apostolic response in their early teaching documents, the early Christians were to fast on different days than the Jews. “But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites; Matthew 6:16 for they fast on the second and fifth day of the week; but do ye fast on the fourth day and the Preparation (Friday).” Didache (8.1)[4])
The Lord responds with the analogy of a marriage banquet where there can be no mourning as long as the bridegroom is present.  He refers, of course, to his own presence and the need for fasting only after he is gone.
One of the characteristics of our Lenten celebration is that we feel the requirements of our faith press more firmly upon us. In scripture today we first hear the Prophet Isaiah exhort us to adopt an interior fast, as opposed to a simple exterior expression of repentance by abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent, as we are required to do. The Lord expects us to undergo a spiritual fast that expresses itself in actions pleasing to God.
To make certain that we recognize the need to adopt this discipline, the Gospel reminds us of the rationale the Lord uses to explain this: his own presence. Jesus explains the reason his disciples are effectively “dispensed” from fasting is that while he is still with them, mourning his loss is inappropriate. It is the same logic we apply during Lent on the Lord’s Day – Sunday. We do not fast nor are we required to follow the discipline of self-denial we have established for the other days of the week during the Lenten Season. Sundays we are with the Lord in the Eucharist. How can we mourn when we rejoice at his solemn presence?
We return to Isaiah’s exhortation on this first Friday of the Lenten Season. God commands us through his prophetic words to adopt the attitude of Christ (although the author would not have known it was Christ’s attitude he was describing).
He asks for actions that are very specific:
“This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.”
How, one might ask, can we “…release those bound unjustly”? Or “set free the oppressed”? Have we not bound others in our anger, have we not oppressed others with our ambition or greed? We are called to look at our motives and see there the results of our own actions. And this is not limited to those with whom we work or go to school; rather the first place we look to release those bound unjustly and free the oppressed is within our own families. It is there that the yoke rests more heavily and the bonds cut most deeply. It is also there that forgiveness is most difficult and reconciliation most painful.
As for “sheltering the oppressed,” “clothing the naked,” and “not turning your back on your own,” these gifts of time and charity are easily associated with what we are called to be as Christians living in an unforgiving community in difficult economic times. Our special attention is directed there during this season of our fast.
Today, indeed, we feel the weight of the discipline of our faith pressing upon us. We pray that our strength is equal to the task and ask the Holy Spirit to add strength to our own.

[1] The picture is “Chained Prisoner” by Francisco de Goya Y Lucentes, 1806-12
[4] The Didache was written in the first or second century A.D. and was recommended by Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 265-c. 340)

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