Is this not the fast which I choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go frre,
And break every yoke?
Is it not to divide yout bread with the hungry,
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
I admit, this is not from the Mass readings for today, but from afternoon prayer. It struck me deeply, as I had just been in a conversation about beginning of life issues. These things trouble me deeply, as the mother of four children, the eldest of whom has Down Syndrome. How–the question was being asked–should we counsel people who are struggling to conceive and thinking of IVF? Or those worried about a serious or life-threatening condition? As I read the words of Isaiah, I was reminded that the human condition is one of vulnerability and often of suffering: when we see another person hungry or naked, we should see ourselves. (Didn’t Jesus say something about loving our neighbour…?)
I hesitate to offer any ethical reflection, actually. My own experience has been one in which I have received four gifts from God, each beautiful and cherished, and at the same time challenging. I had to reckon with the possibility of losing a baby in her first year of life. Thankfully, I never had to confront that reality. But it taught me something about having children–that they are gifts, not possessions, and having children is a privilege and a responsibility, never a right. So to say that the ‘fast’ of the childless might just be to cover the ‘nakedness’ of the orphan…well, it’s not something I can say, as theodicy-in-general is impossible. Only in hindsight are we able to make the kind of sense of tragic circumstances like barrenness, or being orphaned.
So I return to where I began: these things trouble me deeply, because there are no easy answers. Sometimes there aren’t even any hard answers, but only a very deep and painful silence into which our words and tears fall. Then we need the next verse of the passage from Isaiah:
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
And your recovery will speedily spring first;
And your righteousness will go before you;
The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
In Lent we look for the Light, the dawn of our redemption, who is our recovery–healing!–and our righteousness, and in him all the fullness of God’s glory dwelt. Deo gratias.