The Longing of God

This is the fasting that I wish: sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them.” - Is 58:6-7

Too often we begin Lent with secondary longings. We long for our peace; we long for our opportunity to forgive or be forgiven; we long to have our wounds healed; we long to be rid of our addictions; we long to have others understand us. These are authentic longings, and God truly takes them seriously. But are they primary?

What about God’s longing? Deeper than all of our longings is God’s longing that the poor be treated justly and with dignity. This is the longing that gives meaning to fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Our ascetical practices are not claim checks we hand to God on Easter Sunday to verify the achievement of Ash Wednesday resolutions. Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are, rather, the indispensable means at our disposal for discerning the longing of God.

When there is a call to turn back to God, there is a call to turn to the poor. Why? Because that’s where God is. It is imperative that those who have the goods of this world see clearly that what makes for righteousness is not what people have but who people are. God is with the poor to verify that human dignity, not earthly possessions, is everyone’s claim to righteousness. We fast from the things we have so that we might see more clearly God’s longing on behalf of human dignity.

Let us not, however, limit the poor to those who are deprived of food, clothing, or shelter. Some of the poorest of the poor are those who are our closest associates and companions— a parent, a child, a grandparent, a coworker, a teacher, a student, an elderly neighbor whose telephone has not rung for days.

Yes, we all begin Lent with deep, deep longings. Perhaps we need to fast from our longings and focus on the longing of God.

Msgr. John J. McIlhon, adapted from Forty Days Plus Three (from Give Us This Day, March 2017)

Photo credit: Brooke Collins