“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
‘Yes, I am here,’ He will quickly reply.”
– Isaiah 58:6-9a
God ignores fasts if those who perform them commit sins against justice and charity. Hypocrisy of any kind is condemnable and God teaches and reproaches, telling us that He will have nothing to do with the pretence and two-facedness of those who fast but behave wickedly and sinfully. He will, however, certainly listen to prayers if they are accompanied by acts of justice and charity.
The works of mercy recommended in this oracle are echoed in Jesus’ discourse on the Last Judgment (Mat 25:23-45). Christian spirituality has always stressed that love of neighbour and works of mercy are clear proof of a person’s love of God and are a touchstone of true religion, for “…works of mercy are proof of a truly holy life” (from St Thomas Aquinas).
St Leo the Great taught: “Let each of the faithful examine his own conscience, seeking out his deepest desires; if he finds the fruits of love within his soul, he will know that God is with him, and he should strive even harder to be worthy of so great a guest, being ever more generous in his works of mercy”.
Here I am, Lord, remove my impurities and fill me with your love.
Take me, shape me and mould me.
Strengthen my determination and self-control.
Guide me, lead me, walk beside me and use me, Lord.