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Saints Perpetua and Felicity, Martyrs
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit. (Psalm 51:19)
Have you ever tried to poke a plastic drinking straw through a raw potato? There’s a trick to it. In order to get the straw to penetrate the surface, you have to imagine that you are aiming for the space on the other side of the potato. You have to focus your energy on the goal, not the “obstacle” of the potato; then you’ll be able to pierce the tough exterior. If you focus on the outside of the potato, the straw will only hit the surface and bend or barely go in. It won’t work unless you intentionally “think beyond the potato.”
This idea of focusing intently on the other side can help illustrate a central point in today’s readings: when you do something sacrificial for the Lord, keep your eyes on the goal, not the sacrifice itself.
In the first reading, the prophet tells us that God doesn’t like it when his people fast for a few days but then fight as soon as the fast is over. It’s clear that their hearts have not been changed. They were fasting only because it was required, not because they wanted to draw closer to the Lord. He explains that fasting has value only if it results in a greater concern for the poor, the needy, and the oppressed. Likewise, in Psalm 51, David acknowledges that God loves the “sacrifice” of a contrite heart more than a “burnt offering” made out of duty or obligation. And finally, Jesus tells his opponents that fasting is appropriate only when we are far from him, the “bridegroom,” and want to come closer to him.
Clearly, God wants us to keep our fasting in perspective. He wants us to keep the goal in the forefront of our minds. He knows that if we lose sight of the goal, we will be like the straw bending and breaking at the first contact with the potato.
So as you fast and give up things this Lent, keep your eyes focused on the transformation that God wants to do in your heart. Keep envisioning the person he wants you to become, and you’ll find your way through to the other side.
“Lord, use this season to help me grow closer to you. Jesus, I want to embrace your plans for my life!”
Isaiah 58:1-9; Matthew 9:14-15
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