Today’s first reading from Isaiah lays out a vision of what our Lenten fasting might look like:
Is this the manner of fasting I wish,
of keeping a day of penance:
That a man bow his head like a reed
and lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
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.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
The fasting here is characterized by action for others. It is a fasting from selfishness. How might we apply some of the instructions in this passage today?
Releasing those bound unjustly. There are over 3000 inmates currently on death row in the United States, the only Western democracy that still uses capital punishment. The church is a strong advocate against the use of the death penalty, and there are efforts underway to end it on the state level. “Releasing” those on death row might not mean a literal releasing from prison, but instead a release from the unjust death sentence. Learn how you can get involved in this advocacy here.
Setting free the oppressed. One form of oppression common today is the targeting of religious freedom around the world. A recent Pew study revealed that Christians had faced harassment in 111 countries between mid-2009 and mid-2010, most of any religious group. In this article on the study, Vatican reporter John Allen asks: What would a thoughtful, unified, constructive Catholic response look like? It’s time to explore that question seriously.
Sharing your bread with the hungry. The United Nations reports that about 870 million people in the world do not have enough to eat, and that undernutrition contributes to the deaths of 2.6 million children under the age of 5 a year — that’s 50,000 a week. A Yankee Stadium’s worth of children dead each week of the year because they don’t have enough to eat. The Christian organization Bread for the World lobbies legislators in Washington to expand food aid to the countries and people around the world most in need. Visit their site to learn how you can get involved.
Sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, and clothing the naked when you see them. Homelessness is a real problem here in Camden. Joseph’s House of Camden is a non-profit dedicated to overnight shelter for the homeless in the city. Over 700 adults stayed at Joseph’s House last winter. They are always looking for volunteers to spend time with the adults and for donations 0f clothing and other goods. Visit their site to learn more.