All too often and for many people, the practice of religion easily degenerates into empty rituals of prayers, fasting and sacrificial offerings. And worse, religion deteriorates into prejudices and exclusions, then into hatred and violence. These practices of religion are never meant to appease or please a vengeful and wrathful God. These practices are meant to change us and make us better persons, fully aware of the loving God who has given us life.
Prayers are humble a humble admission of our existence: undeserved, unmerited, freely given as a gift from a loving Creator. I have done nothing to deserve life. And when the time comes for my life on this earth to end, the good Lord will transform it into another level. Prayer is thanksgiving for this gift of life, a longing for that one day when I come face to face with my Creator, a supplication that when that event comes I will be ready and aware of what is taking place.
Fasting is not a means to losing weight or shedding unwanted pounds. It is not a punishment nor an atonement for my manifold shortcomings. Fasting is an emptying of myself to make room for others to come and live within my heart. It is making space where I can embrace others in love and compassion. It is creating an emptiness within me so that God may come with His fullness.
Sacrificial offerings are not a salve to my conscience. They are not bargaining chips which I offer up to God in exchange for some favors I am asking. Sacrifices are acts of discipline where I learn to deny myself so that I can affirm others. Sacrifices predisposes me to let go of things and not be possessed by them. Sacrifices prepares me when I have to give everything I have for the sake of others. Christ showed me what real sacrifice is. My sacrificial offerings are my daily practice to being able to be like Christ when the times comes.
The Lord speaks of peace to his people.
Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn
as long as the bridegroom is with them?
The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them,
and then they will fast.
No one patches an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth,
for its fullness pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse.
People do not put new wine into old wine skins.
Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined.
Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wine skins, and both are preserved.”