Doesn’t the world tempt us to reject “righteous deeds”? The World tells us to constantly be doing something. Movies, sports, work. What about prayer? The World tells us that to be happy we need to accumulate things, that they are our payment. What about alms giving? The World tells us that my body should never be hungry, always satisfied, always consoled. What about fasting? Unlike the world, Christ encourages us to righteous deeds: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. These are so important that he gives a specific teaching on each of them, and he says, “Your Father will repay you!” He is promoting them, he is encouraging us to them.
The last on Christ’s list is fasting, and we know the first shall be last. How is fasting first in importance? Fasting opens the door to both prayer and almsgiving. When we fast from activities like television, we become available to turn to God; free to pray. When we fast from from things like food, we become detached from things of the world; free to give. And why do we do these at all? The first reading says these righteous deeds “stir” God’s heart to concern and mercy for us. They are an invitation to him, to be our God and save us. No wonder the world wants us to reject righteous deeds; the world doesn’t want God to lead them.
But why does God wait for our invitation before he leads us deeper into relationship with him? Because he respects our freedom! He wants to teach us to exercise our freedom for the good; to use the “words” he has given us to call out to him. The words he has given us are: fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Every year he awaits our invitation; every year we offer it: Lent. Christ said that because of these righteous deeds, the Father will repay us. Since these deeds are an invitation, he “repays” us by giving himself to us ever more deeply. This Lent, let us write God a beautiful invitation, through fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.