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

For such a long time I understood fasting as a means of self-denial to enhance personal health or holiness: a way of amending sin, of purifying one’s spirit, of offering something up to God. Yet, I missed the deeply communal dimension of self-denial: to enrich others.

Fasting is integrally connected to the practice of compassion and justice we call almsgiving. Today’s Gospel underscores the kind of fasting God wishes through the prophet Isaiah, one that draws us closer to Jesus in the poor. Such fasting involves a greater reaching out to our sisters and brothers who are marginalized and forgotten; adopting a simpler lifestyle or sharing of time and resources that raise awareness concerning the plight of those less privileged in society or deepen solidarity with the poor with whom Jesus particular identifies.

This is not an easy message for me. It stretches the somber way I approach fasting to a greater concern for others and joyfully encountering God.

As you ponder fasting this Lent, consider one of these ways inspired by Pope Francis:

Fast from hurting words to say kind words.
Fast from sadness to be filled with gratitude.
Fast from anger and to filled with patience.
Fast from pessimism to be filled with hope.
Fast from worries to trust in God.
Fast from complaints to contemplate simplicity.
Fast from pressures to be prayerful.
Fast from bitterness to fill your heart with joy.
Fast from selfishness to be compassionate to others.
Fast from grudges to be reconciled.
Fast from gossiping to give others the benefit of the doubt.
Fast from spending more to be in solidarity with those who have less.
Fast from prejudice to welcome those beyond my borders of concern.
Fast from blaming to pray for healing of victims of sexual abuse and reform of the Church.

O Lord, help us reach out and encounter you in those whom society rejects, abandons, or neglects.

Photo credit: Insider Louisville