Column: Find the joy in Lent by fasting for others

by Jan Lewis 

As a convert to the Catholic faith, I initially viewed Lent as a time of hardship and deprivation. I observed people giving up things that they had every intention of picking up again once the season had passed. Where was the good in that?

Over the years, I have come to better understand that this 40-day walk is
part of a process that leads us to the joy of rebirth on Easter morning. It is a process of dying to self in order to more closely imitate Christ.

If we are to become more like Christ, we must do more than simply give up chocolate for 40 days. In the Book of Isaiah, God gives us very clear direction as to what a true fast is: “This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard” (Is 58: 6-8).

If we are to imitate Christ and offer a fast that is pleasing to God, then we must do what Christ commanded us to do — we must love and serve others. During this season of Lent, I challenge you to fast for others. Find ways to reach out to the oppressed and those bound unjustly, share from your substance by providing food, shelter and clothing to those who do not have these things.

When you do your weekly grocery shopping, purchase additional food and donate a sack of groceries to a local food pantry. Contact a homeless shelter or food kitchen and offer to help prepare and serve a meal. Call a local nursing home or assisted living center and make plans to visit an elderly person. Volunteer to provide after-school tutoring to children in one of our urban schools. Offer to assist with teaching English as a second language. Become an advocate for the oppressed and write to your senator and congressman, urging them to move past partisanism and focus on the pressing issues of poverty and immigration.

A dear priest friend once shared with me a lesson that he learned from a mentor during his seminary years. The secret to living a life filled with joy is to live first for Jesus, by living a life serving others before serving yourself. Jesus, others, then you equates to joy.

This Lent, experience the joy that is found in fasting for others.

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