Observed as a Commemoration

Today we honour the memory of Blessed Reginald an early Dominican and friend of Saint Dominic.  He was a powerful preacher and inspired many novices to join the Order in Bologna.  Dominican tradition tells us that Our Lady appeared to him in a vision and presented him with a black and white habit which members of the Order were to wear – and Dominicans have done so ever since.

You may have seen the classic children’s film ‘Mary Poppins’.  There’s a scene in the film in which Mary Poppins uses a measuring tape on herself.  But rather than feet or inches, the tape reads, “Practically perfect in every way.”  And it tells us a lot about her personality.

In today’s first reading, we see God’s measuring tape for fasting.  The passage names eight specific things that God wants Israel to do.  If the people measure up, their glory will “break forth like the dawn,” and their relationship with God will deepen dramatically (Isaiah 58:8, 9).  Sadly, Israel never did manage to live up to these standards.  But how did God respond?

Like many of the prophetic writings, this passage can be understood in a number of ways.  It’s both an exhortation for Israel to change and a guideline to help them encounter God on a deeper level.  It can also be read in the context of history, as a revelation of God’s grace.  God could have turned away when Israel didn’t meet his standards.  Instead, he broke into their world and sent his Son, who met all of these standards and then some.  He broke the yoke of sin, brought freedom from oppression, fed the hungry, freed spiritual prisoners, and clothed people with his love and righteousness.

You might feel that God sets high standards, and you’re right.  We are called to live up to every commandment, pursuing and growing in holiness day by day.  But that’s only one side of the story.  The other side is that we serve a God of tremendous mercy, patience, and forgiveness.  Even when we fall short, he doesn’t give up.  He reaches out his hand to us, no matter how far we have fallen, showering us with his mercy, grace, and encouragement.


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