Friday after Ash Wednesday
Is 58:1-9; matt 9:14-15
The Question About Fasting
Sometimes last year I received a text message that says: “Lenten diet – 1. Eat your words, 2. Swallow your pride, 3. Digest God’s teachings, 4. For dessert, indulge in prayer.” What a menu for fasting! And to complete the Lenten trio: share with the poor.”
In today’s gospel, the disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees ask Jesus why His disciples do not fast while they fast. He says that they do not fast because He is with them. In other words, Jesus puts things in their proper perspective. The reign of God in His very own person is calling us to rejoice and celebrate the unfathomable generosity and love of God that is manifested in Jesus’ presence among us. But today He is no longer with us physically, we have to fast as this is the thing we do for God.
Fasting is valued by most religions. It is seen as a way of expiating sin, purifying the spirit and offering up something to the divinity. Like for example, Muslims, they fast during their Ramadan days. It starts from sunrise to sunset everyday of the 9th month of the Mohammedan year.
For the Jewish people, fasting is listed as one of the cornerstones of their spirituality. In the book of Tobit, it says: “Prayer is good when accompanied by fasting, almsgiving and justice,” (12:8). If separated from prayer and justice as well as if not directed to conversion, fasting is meaningless. It is a sign of repentance and penance. It also reinforces the hope and the prayer that God will come and liberate His people.
Fasting, like praying and almsgiving, is a legitimate spiritual discipline to be practiced in private between a Christian and the Lord. How often we practice it is not prescribed because that too is between the believer and Christ. But for us Catholics, we are required to fast twice a year and that is during Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. When we desire to seek God’s face more than we want to eat is the proper time to fast.
In the Bible we can find several purposes for fasting, somebody said. It is part of the discipline of self-control; it is a way of sharing that we depend on God alone and draw all our strength and resources from Him; it is a way of focusing totally on Him when seeking His guidance and help and of showing that we really are in earnest in our quest; it is also, at times, an expression of sorrow and deep repentance, something that a person or community will do in order to acknowledge failure before God and seek His mercy.
We tend to think of fasting as less eating of food. But we can fast from anything else. Like for example: if we love music and decide to miss a concert in order to spend time with God this is fasting. Another example is when, as friends, we need to be together, we will cancel all other activities in order to make this get together possible. There’s nothing magical about fasting. This is just one way of telling God that our priority at the moment is to be alone with Him, sorting out whatever is necessary that we have cancelled the meal, party, concert or whatever else we have planned to do in order to fulfill this priority.
So, what kind of fasting do you exercise during this season of Lent? Does it bring joy to those people in need?