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February 20, 1998     The Message
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February 20, 1998

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The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana I 0 ! The good news and the bad By FATHER PAUL J. SCHMIDT Catholic News Service Jesus tells us in one Gospel passage that when we fast, we should present a clean, well-oiled face to the world. So what do we do on Ash Wednesday? We Walk around all day with ashes on our foreheads! Fortunately, God has a sense of humor. But fasting, it Seems, can have a nega- tive as well as positive side. The Bible tells us that there is some- thing good about fasting: -- The prophet Joel tells the people to fast and pray to avert punishment for sins. -- The Book of Acts tells how the apos- ties combined fasting with prayer before appointing Paul and Barnabas to a spe- cial ministry or appointing presbyters for the early Christian communities (Acts 13:2; 14:23). St. Paul lists "frequent fastings" as one of the hardships he bore for the sake of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 11:27), though these may have been imposed by cir- cumstances rather than willingly chosen. Matthew, Mark and Luke all recount the response of Jesus to those who charged that his disciples did not fast, while Johnthe Baptist's disciples did. Jesus said that there was a time to fast and a time to refrain from fasting. Something dangerous also is linked to fasting, the Bible says: -- Jesus spoke of putting on a show for othbrs to see. -- Centuries earlier, the prophet Isaiah wrote at length about fasting as a smoke- screen to conceal injustice. Much of Isa- iah, Chapter 58, is a call to a genuine fast, a fast of the heart, not simply the body. Everyone has met the person who gave up smoking for Lent and became impossible to live with. Isaiah had met people like this too. He wrote, "Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight, and to strike with a wicked fist." Isaiah also knew about the kind of per- son who gets enthusiastic about fasting, Father Paul J. Schmidt observes that Jesus tells us: "When we fast, we should present a clean, well-oiled face to the world." So what do we do on walk around all day with ashes -- CNS photo but fails to see the things that really need to be denied. "Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day and oppress all your workers." Isaiah describes the outward signs of fasting: "bowing down the head like a bulrush, lying in sackcloth and ashes." Then he challenges: "Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?" The poet Robert Herrick echoed this centuries later: "To show a heart grief- rent:/To starve thy sin/Not bin: And that's to keep thy Lent." Isaiah tells the kind of fast the Lord wants: "to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free, to share your bread with the hungry, to shelter the homeless, to clothe the naked." For this prophet, a true fast is to recognize the poor and oppressed as one's "own kin." The prophet Joel meant something similar when he said, "Rend your hearts, not your garments." The church connects prayer and alms- giving to fasting. -- Fasting is contrition. -- Fasting also is charity. Fasting is a willingness to "waste time" with God and "waste money" on our brothers and sisters in need. It is depriving ourselves so! enriched. Jesus gave generosity. : Fasting, then, ing (though effects). Fasting is fice for the taking off pounds the Lord, and more weight Father Schmidt is ittze i Persotmel for the DiOCeSe Fasting: A wake- up .call for sleepy disciples By DAN LUBY Catholic News Service The television clearly needed repair. The antenna looked like bad wire sculp- Pare made of coat hangers and fluttering scraps of aluminum foil. Coaxing a decent picture out of the old set was a chore. So when Ash Wednesday rolled around, the couple decided to make it a TV-free Lent. They didn't watch all that much on television anyway- just the news, a little PBS and an occasional late- night movie. But fasting from television was harder than expected. The first night, the husband noticed in the newspaper that his hometown bas- ketball team's game would start in half an hour. Suddenly, he remembered their television fast, and he groaned. As the week unfolded, the couple became painfully aware how much more television they watched than they'd believed; not hours every night, but more than just a few shows a week. At first they pretended not to miss tele- vision. After a few days, they admitted that they missed plopping down in front of the news at the end of the day and, truth be told, watching that gossipy little show about movie stars afterward. But as the days and nights passed, the couple began to miss television less acutely. And the benefits of their fast began to come into focus. Now it was easier to go to the Lenten mission in the neighboring parish when they got home from work. Also, the cou- ple started walking in the evening before supper, opening up more time and opportunity to talk. Instead of watching PBS wildlife spe- cials, the woman started reading a book about Dorothy Day. The man decided to write to his old circle of high school friefids, which led to a soul-satisfying gathering with a couple of people they had lost touch with. When the couple saw an article in a magazine at church about couples pray- ing together, they decided to try it. It was a little awkward at first, but it blossomed into a meaningful nightly ritual, enrich- ing their relationship with God and their own closeness. The couple came to see that giving up television was a ,true fast: voluntarily doing without something that in itself is not bad, but can assume too large a place in one's life. The couple never got the television fixed. When Lent ended, they found their lives freer without television, so they gave it away. Fasting, whether from food, television, recreational shopping or a host of other possibilities, offers a wake-up call to sleepy disciples. It routine; it frees us chance to think how we spend money Luby is t tion for the