Homily for 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2007
We are becoming more familiar with the Muslim world these days. There are references to customs and beliefs of Islam almost daily in the news as people try to come to terms with radical Islamic terrorism. One custom we have all heard about now is the Muslim 28 day month of fasting called Ramadan. During the month of Ramadan Muslims are required to fast from sunrise to sunset. They fast not only from food but also from sexual activity. That is no small feat. Just think how you would cope with it in a family for a whole month. And as they follow a lunar calendar the month migrates throughout winter an summer as well! Our Easter date follows a lunar calendar too. But it is connected to a solstice as well so the date does not move too much.
What I was interested to learn is that the Islamic fast in Ramadam is only one side of the coin. The breaking of the fast in the evening is a special time at which the family gathers together. So the fasting is not a solitary activity. Along with the evening meal the fast creates a strong solidarity amongst Muslims. The fast of Ramadan is almost what makes a person a Muslim. In observing the fast one enters into the Islamic submission to Allah which is of the essence of that religion. The very word "Islam" means submission to God.
I mention this because fasting is common to most religious traditions for similar reasons. And it has strong roots in our own. As part of our observance of Lent in preparation for celebrating Easter fasting is recommended to us. It does invite us to put aside our own wants and think of others and to bend our stubborn hearts towards God. So during Lent which begins next Wednesday it is good to commit oneself to that discipline on each Friday. Fast from sunrise to sunset. You are not asked to stave yourself. Maybe just omit one meal in the day. Fasting expresses a conversion of heart, an turning towards love of God and neighbour. Paul VI said, "Man must through fasting dispose himself even materially to allowing his neighbour to share his property in spite of the claims of self-love." Unless it is an expression of faith and love it is meaningless.
Fasting need not be a solitary exercise for us either. Fasting puts us out of step with many of the values of our society. It is saying that the immediate satisfaction of all our wants and needs is not the purpose of life. It is saying that the excesses of consumerism, greed are not what it is about. Such things are not the way of Jesus.
There is another side of the coin as well. Let us take up things as well as give things up. Take up a renewed commitment to each other in our families, to prayer, to the reading of the scriptures. The Lenten groups are an aid in this. Talk to your children about Lent and Easter and what they mean to you. These two seasons help renew us as God's people.
Fasting does not make us Catholics. Nor does any other practice or discipline we might take up. We become Christian through Baptism and faith in the person of Jesus Christ. We are gathered as Catholics by the power of the Spirit around our Lord Jesus Christ. In our baptism we are called children of God. That is our identity. And we are recognised as such by the love we have for one another: the way we live the words of Jesus in the Gospel today (Luke 6:27-38).
I want to turn now briefly to another topic.
The other week I suggested we might have to modify our ambitions about rebuilding the Parish Centre. When some estimated costing were put to the full Site and Finance Committee meeting I underestimated their unwillingness to risk selling ourselves short by building something that would not meet the future needs of the Parish. It was decided to look further at fund-raising so we can do the best for the community.
As I was thinking about it I remembered the gift of this present land on which we sit by the Currie family in the 1880s, over 120 years ago. I don't know if they were thinking this far into the future, but without that gift we would not be here today. It is in that spirit we have to look not just after our own needs and wants but so that we might not hinder what the future may bring.