The purpose of action
In Book I of his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle talks about the purpose of action. For him, the aim of action is the good. In some cases, the activity itself is the end (for example, watching a movie). In other cases, the end goes beyond the activity and lies in some product (for example, writing a homily). When an action ends with a product, the product is superior to the activity (having a homily in one’s hands and giving it is more important than writing it). By the way, I know one priest who never writes his homilies, but if he did start, he would be too lazy to stop!
Not for its own sake
When I prepare a homily, my purpose goes beyond the product. This means preparing a homily is a choice made for the sake of something else. With this activity, I am trying to express my understanding of the Word of God and make changes in my life accordingly. A homily, even if it is excellent (not often the case!), remains useless if it does not change the preacher’s heart and life in the first place. Before becoming life-changing words for others, a homily needs to be a transformative power for the homilist himself.
Nothing to do with self-improvement
In today’s Gospel, there is the question of fasting. We can ask ourselves: what is the purpose of fasting? Is it to lose weight? Losing weight is often desirable and sometimes necessary but it is not the purpose of fasting. Is it to become more pious or to show others that we are pious? No, fasting has nothing to do with self-improvement. If making ourselves feel better is the purpose of fasting, the church becomes a wellness treatment center or a yoga club. And I am very sure that the church is not competent to run that kind of activity!
Emptying of oneself to be filled by God’s presence
Jesus’ answer to John’s disciples can help us to understand the meaning of fasting. Jesus talks about the importance of a presence. The wedding guests don’t need to fast when the bridegroom is with them. They will do it when he is gone. And so, fasting is a way of living in the presence of someone who is physically absent. It is an act of emptying a little bit of oneself in order to allow others to be present even though they are physically absent. Fasting is an act of communion. It allows us to be filled with the presence of Jesus. Beyond any self-improvement, fasting leads us to a deeper relationship with God. We become more aware of his presence when we empty ourselves.
The Lenten season gives us a good opportunity to create within us a void that only God can fill. It encourages us to deepen our hunger for God. We become more and more ourselves when we empty our selfishness in order to be filled with God’s desire for us. We become the persons we’re meant to be when we decenter our self-interest in order to be the image of the one who made us in his likeness.
Prayer: God of life, help us to be your presence in our midst.
Resolution: Empty my harmful pride to fill it with a benevolent desire.