A Proper Fast
Read Isaiah 58:2-7
"Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?" - Isaiah 58:6
Reflection: “What are our faith, our words and our history worth if not translated into action, sacrifice and redemption?” This is the first line of the statement that was issued by fasters in the USA who in November 2013 started a hunger fast for immigration reform. We started out as 6 fasters. By the last day almost 200 people had joined in the tent on the National Mall, some for a day or more and three for 22 days. Over 10,000 people joined the fast as solidarity fasters across the country. The statement sums up why people of faith fast. Jesus tells us that to love God we must love our neighbor, and to love our neighbor we must be willing to sacrifice everything. We join in fasting and praying not only to do penance but to sacrifice out of love and with a spirit of hope.
Teilhard de Chardin, a French philosopher and Jesuit priest who was also a paleontologist and geologist, believed that the prime energy of the universe is love. Sister Ilia Delia OSF describes love as “unitive energy that unites center to center, generating more being and life. Love is not a thought or an idea; it is the transcendent dimension of life itself, that which reaches out to another, touches the other and is touched by the other. When we do not share in the fields of love, when we do not feel the concrete existence of another, we can easily abstract the other into a number, a data point, or even a joke.”
Francis of Assisi said: “If you have people who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have people who will deal likewise with their fellow humanity.” The idea of caring for all creation was not some paternalistic concept of having dominion over creation. St. Francis believed in the inter-connectedness of all creation, a wholeness of being with the earth and all of her inhabitants. Francis understood this inter-connectedness from a spiritual perspective. Today, through quantum physics, we know that everything in the universe is connected. Each particle and every molecule are bound together. As Teilhard said: “If there was no internal propensity to unite, even at a rudimentary level – indeed in the molecule itself, it would be physically impossible for love to appear higher up, in a humanized form.”
As spiritual people we are called to conscience to act for justice through sacrifice and spiritual witness. Fasting has been part of faith traditions and justice movements from the Hebrew prophets to leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi and Cesar Chavez. Fasting is a way of connecting with God. We are fasting as a way of following these examples, and we pray and hope that our elected officials will heed our call to end this moral crisis of destroying Gods creation.
Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God stated: “This is the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke. Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your homes; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”
We are experiencing the results of an economic system based on the principal of separation, not connectedness. A system based on individual greed, not the common good. We have seen the devastations caused by our lack of solidarity with each other and all of God’s creation. St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan theologian, described the created universe as the fountain fullness of God’s expressed being. As God is expressed in creation, creation in turn expresses the creator. Bonaventure also tells us that to love God we need to Love all that God created.
It is because we value our relationship with God and God’s creation that climate change is for people of faith a profoundly spiritual, ethical, and moral issue. Francis of Assisi recognized God’s work in creation, and loved it. He celebrated the beauty of God in creation, and loved God all the more for this gift. Francis’ relationship with creation is best understood within the broader context of his religious journey.
Fasting and prayer are not ways to earn God’s favor by our good intentions or good works. God’s grace has been fully given to us. We can’t earn it by doing extra things or by giving up certain other things in fasting. Christian beliefs only become faith when they are put into action. If the fast doesn’t motivate us to fight injustice, then it is not a proper fast!
As people of faith we are called to use our prophetic voices to speak for those least able to defend themselves—people living in poverty, children, future generations and all creation. Fasting is a form of action to re-awaken our consciousness, our souls, and join all creation in a story of connectedness, not a story of separation.
By Patrick Carolan, Executive Director, Franciscan Action Network
Prayer: God, we fast not only to do penance but to sacrifice out of love and with a spirit of hope. We join together and pray for the strength and courage to use our prophetic voices to speak for and with those least able to defend themselves.