This post, right up to the *****, is a paraphrase of Kevin Perrotta's reflection on Isaiah 58, taken from his wonderful book/bible study, Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving.
"Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?" (The people are asking God why He isn't answering their prayers. He replies, through the prophet Isaiah, basically calling them hypocrites):
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.
In other words, you can't fast from food without fasting from treating others sinfully, if you want God to hear your prayer.
But God suggests a better way in verses 6-8:
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?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
And a promise of answered prayers to those who fast in this manner:
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
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.
So why bother fasting then? Can't we just work on being better people, practice the works of mercy, work on relationships? Sure, you can. And you should.
But fasting changes us. By fasting, we willfully resist our desires as a way to express commitment to do what God wants instead. By fasting, we willfully turn away from what would give us pleasure and satisfaction in order to focus on the needs of others. Make sense?
Want to give it a try?
So, what are your prayer intentions today? Give them wings of fasting and almsgiving (St. Augustine)! Join me, friends, fasting in solidarity for all our petitions and with thanksgiving! Let's lift each other up in spiritual unity. And while you're at it, why not put together of a bag of clothes you haven't worn for a long long time and drop them off at your nearest donation center. Make a special effort, while you fast, to be merciful and kind to those around you today. Don't fast to serve your own interest (you know, like doing it to shed a few extra pounds), instead put everyone else ahead instead.