7 Mar – Friday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, Martyrs
Lay-woman born to a noble pagan family. Convert to Christianity. Wife and mother. Martyred with her maid, friend, and fellow convert Saint Felicitas. In centuries past, their story was so popular that Saint Augustine of Hippo warned against giving it the weight of Scripture.
Lay-woman. Convert. Maid, friend, and fellow convert of Saint Perpetua. Martyred with her.
– The Patron Saint Index
Thus says the Lord:
Shout for all you are worth,
raise your voice like a trumpet.
Proclaim their faults to my people,
their sins to the House of Jacob.
They seek me day after day,
they long to know my ways,
like a nation that wants to act with integrity
and not ignore the law of its God.
They ask me for laws that are just,
they long for God to draw near:
‘Why should we fast if you never see it,
why do penance if you never notice?’
Look, you do business on your fast-days,
you oppress all your workmen;
look, you quarrel and squabble when you fast
and strike the poor man with your fist.
Fasting like yours today
will never make your voice heard on high.
Is that the sort of fast that pleases me,
a truly penitential day for men?
Hanging your head like a reed,
lying down on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call fasting,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the sort of fast that pleases me
– it is the Lord who speaks –
to break unjust fetters and
undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and break every yoke,
to share your bread with the hungry,
and shelter the homeless poor,
to clothe the man you see to be naked
and not turn from your own kin?
Then will your light shine like the dawn
and your wound be quickly healed over.
Your integrity will go before you
and the glory of the Lord behind you.
Cry, and the Lord will answer;
call, and he will say, ‘I am here.’
John’s disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘Why is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not?’ Jesus replied, ‘Surely the bridegroom’s attendants would never think of mourning as long as the bridegroom is still with them? But the time will come for the bridegroom to be taken away from them, and then they will fast.’
Is that what you call fasting, a day acceptable to the Lord?
Fasting has a long tradition in our Christian faith. The Bible documents instances where fasts were held to mark a period of grief (the seven day fast upon the death of Saul, 1 Samuel 31:13) or as a show of repentance (the Ninevites fasting in the hope that God would spare them, Jonah 3:3-9). Fasting is also a form of worship in Scripture, a purification through self-denial. Moses fasted forty days before ascending the mount and receiving the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28). Elijah fasted forty days before addressing God at Horeb (1 Kings 19:8). Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights, before his temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11).
What happens when we fast? Well for one, we’re weaker physically, mentally and emotionally. We get tired. And when we’re tired, we become prone to mood swings. We’re susceptible to every little irritation and temptation. Constant prayer during a fast is almost a necessity, or we’d be snapping at our loved ones and snarling at total strangers – “Lord, please keep an even keel so I don’t turn into a raging maniac when the guy in front of me cuts me off at the green light”. It’s as if a double dose of fortitude is needed simply to get us through our day. When we fast, we become acutely aware of our need for God to sustain us.
Why do we fast? Fasting is a way for us to reconnect to Christ’s experience during his forty days in the desert. Most of us belong to the generation of the peace dividend, born the children of plenty. We’ve never known real hunger, never felt real thirst. We’ve not faced the kind of fear that comes from crippling loneliness and isolation. We’ve never really wanted for anything. As a consequence, we sometimes forget that “one does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Fasting reaffirms that. When we fast and commit that time to prayer and the reading of His Word, we refresh our hearts, our thoughts and our faith. We refresh anew, our commitment to Him.
How should we fast? Scripture is explicit about this – “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but your Father… ” (Matthew 6: 16-18). What we choose to give up is between us and God, no one else needs to know and we don’t need to make a grand show of it. Fasting should not be an excuse for us to indulge in sarcastic remarks, malicious back biting, and grand exhibitions of religiosity (“She’s not even giving up meat, imagine that!”). Fasting that is used to glorify ourselves misses the point and wrecks our Christian testimony. Our fast should be so joyful that it inspires, so fruitful that we are hungry for more. We should emerge at the other end, with greater self-awareness and a deeper appreciation of Our Lord than we had going in.
This Lent, I wish for us all, a fruitful fast, one that refreshes our faith, nourishes our soul and satisfies our hunger for Him. Put aside our need for affirmation. He who sees what is done in secret will in due course, reward us in secret. May God bless you with grace, strength and fortitude as we all begin this Lenten journey.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)
Prayer: We pray for the fortitude to hold our tempers and our tongues in check, as we begin our Lenten fast.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the abundance that God has blessed us with – our health, our loving families and all the happy moments that we have been so fortunate to share with them.