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What to fast from

Before all else, brothers and sisters, fast from strife and discord. Recall the prophets reproach: On your fast days you follow your own desires, you goad those under your yoke, you beat them with your fists, and is your cry to be heard? (Is 58:3-5). And to this he added: This is not the fast I have chosen, says the Lord.If you wish to cry out, make use of the cry of which it is written, With my voice I cried out to the Lord (Ps 141:2). Thats not a cry of strife but of charity, not of the flesh but of the heart. Thats not the cry of which the prophet spoke: I looked for him to do judgment and he did iniquity, and to do justice and instead he caused an outcry (Is 5:7).Forgive and you will be forgiven; give and you will be given (Lk 6:37-38). These are the two wings by which prayer flies to God: that you forgive those who have wronged you and that you give to the needy. (Augustine, Sermon 205, 3; PL 38, 1040)

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Great insight. So little attention is given to the words of Jesus which focused on the evil of anger. Fasting is narcissistic when not accompanied with charity. No gift should be brought to the altar devoid of love of neighbor. Too many have used the gospel of Jesus for domination. So much so that a South American Indian who was condemned to death but offered baptism refused. He did not want to be associated with a faith that had so many evil followers. This is why harlots and publicans will enter heaven before the scribes and pharisees.

I'm kind of hoping the scribes and pharisees get in along with the harlots and publicans. The lower the bar, the better my own chances.But what nice advice, not only for Lent, but for life: be generous materially and generous in spirit. What a different world it would be if we could do that.

Speaking of lower bars, I've recently been giving a lot of attention to the ancient secular commandment Do no harm. I've never been much more than your run-of-the-mill harm-doer (lack of opportunity?), but I'm a pretty competitive harm-sayer and a first-rate harm-thinker, although naturally it's a little hard to compare oneself to others who are just thinking harm.Anyway, I frequently find even that low level of good personal relations to be quite challenging, like uphill hiking when I haven't been out for a while. And I have to keep reminding myself about it, especially when I hear someone spouting stuff that I think is wicked nonsense.Every now and then, though, I have a glimpse, if it is even that protracted, of something more. I don't dare call it benevolence, let alone charity. Empathy implies too much. And it is not the face of Christ or even seeing myself in another. It may just be the sense that here is a human being burdened enough without my piling on.I don't know where this slightly altered consciousness may lead. I certainly don't expect to burst out anytime soon in a fountain of philanthropy, spreading sunshine and good works all about. I wouldn't want to startle people. For now, it doesn't feel as if action is called for, just awareness.

John, it may be the dawning realization that we're all essentially dopes. This is why forgiveness is such a silver bullet. If I forgive another dope, then it's easier for me to come to terms with the fact that I'm usually a dope myself.

Jeanne, looking only at myselfwell, maybe a sly peek at others as wellI think a proficient dope can find a way to sully even as good a thing as forgiveness by puffing up about it. Whoo baby, what a great forgiver I am!To check that tendency, it might be good if we could just not notice and certainly not take offense at a lot of the petty, annoying stuff that others do when they're being not real meanies but just dopes. And then gradually work up to real harms. Call it holy obliviousness.

Ash Wednesday, and the blogs are full of the big story of the week. And we should fast from strife and discord. (And, I suppose. do so while not " looking the other way," either.)Trust Augustine to get under the skin every time.

Augustinus subcutaneus

And then there is the announcement from the Archdiocese of New Orleans that alligator meat is to be considered as fish and can be eaten on any day.Louisianians have always had a different take on things like Lent. Right, Ann?

What to fast from, ok, but what to fast for? Any way to help the conclave?

Here is (a short version of) what Pope Benedict said against strife:Today many are ready to "rend their garments" over scandals which are of course caused by others - but few seem willing to act according to their own "heart" by allowing the Lord transform them.Reflect on the importance of witnessing to faith, so that we can reveal the face of the Church and how this face is, at times, disfigured. I am thinking in particular of the sins against the unity of the Church, of the divisions in the body of the Church. Living Lent in a more intense ecclesial communion, overcoming rivalry is a sign for those who have distanced themselves from the faith.Jesus points out that the truth of our relationship with God is what qualifies the authenticity of every religious act. For this reason he denounces religious hypocrisy. The true disciple does not serve himself or the "public", but his Lord.

Right, Bernard. It is my understanding that the little duck species which is called "poule d'eau" here ("chicken of the waters") was always OK on Fridays here because it was thought that they ate only fish.Today in the spirit of Ash Wednesday I chose not to go to my favorite Japanese restaurant for baked oysters (my favorite lunch). Shows how the letter of the law can be silly, doesn't it? At least in New Orleans.

I had a dozen half shell clams and oysters for dinner last night; aren't they fish?

Claire: Your question reminded me of what Jesus said: that there are demons that can be cast out only by prayer and fasting. There's a Lenten resolution for anyone who thinks the Church has demons that need to be cast out. But perhaps it will be confusing to God: whose prayer and fasting? What counts as demonic? Etc., etc.

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.