Mercy and not a sacrifice

altarGreat Lent is upon us. A time of fasting and prayer. I read a story recently of a woman who went to church and was going to have her son take communion but she had to re-schedule since something her son ate, accidentally, was not lenten.  It was actually her mistake, even though it truly was a small thing and completely unintentional. The priest said he understood but it was alright, her son can still receive communion. After all, he explained, the fast isn’t solely about food. Yes, the mother said she understood all that but she was just so overwhelmed and beside herself, how could something like this happen. The priest soon realized she had a much bigger problem than a mere menu slip-up. It was an issue of pride. How could something like this happen to her? She was just so beside herself that she didn’t stop to wonder, if she couldn’t forgive herself for an innocent mistake how could she ever expect God to?

Then there is the famous story of Abba Macarius who, “in order to deny his own will, did not refuse to drink a little wine when others asked him; but then he would punish himself for this indulgence by abstaining two or three days from all types of drink; and it was for this reason that his disciple asked strangers never to offer Saint Macarius a drop of wine.”

That beautiful story reminds us of the command our Lord gave us that our “fasting be done in secret” (Matt 6:18). That’s hard at times to do, especially when the whole community is fasting and then there are oil days and fish days and wine days and then strict fasting days.  Let there be no mistake, God will be pleased if we fast with humility and sincerity. The Pharisees once asked the Disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus overheard them and replied simply, “Go and learn what it means ‘I desire mercy and not a sacrifice’.” (Matt. 9:13).

A blessed Lent.

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