On Fasting and Feasting

Matthew 9: 14-15
Isa 58: 1-9a/ Ps 51: 3-4. 5-6ab. 18-19

Can the wedding guests mourn while the bridegroom is with them?
(Matthew 9:15)

No one fasts on a wedding feast,
Or abstain in a celebration;
But during Lent the parties cease,
For fasting and mortification.

The disciples of John came to Jesus, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast? And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then they will fast” (Mt.9:14-15).

Reflection

The answer of Jesus in this Gospel passage of Matthew has often been regarded by many as a good excuse for ignoring the importance of fasting as part of our spiritual formation. Our Lord was in fact merely referring to the Jewish custom at that time, when fasting was associated with mourning, or with praying to God for a need (such as rain during a long dry spell, to ward off pestilence, or for victory against one’s enemies). But there was no need for it at that time, because the Messiah was in their midst. It was a time of celebration, like the coming of a bridegroom to a wedding feast. It simply was not the proper occasion to fast. What Jesus was saying was that the absence of fasting was due to the presence of the Redeemer in their midst.

The season of Lent is the right time when Christians ought to practice fasting. It is the time of year when we feel an emptiness, a longing for God’s presence, perhaps due to the painful realization of our sinful nature. People fast because they grieve for their sins, and for this they purposely “afflict their souls” to lessen their feelings of guilt. It is a form of “taking up the cross” to follow Jesus. And it is not merely “doing without”, but “doing something about…” In the first reading, God said, “This rather is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own” (Isa.58:6-7). Fasting, therefore, should be more than just a way of atoning for our sins. Nor should it be practiced merely to fortify our faith or increase the chances that God will answer our prayers. What are the other reasons why we must fast during Lent?

First of all, we must understand that fasting is not a church ordinance, but a private matter between you and your soul. Secondly, fasting and abstinence do not refer only to food. They refer to all material things that distract us from the real purpose of doing or being without – to prepare for an important event. That event is Easter, the return of Jesus our Lord, and His victory over death and sin. Fasting then is preparing for a coming feast! It is similar to when our Church urges us to refrain from eating food at least one hour before receiving our Lord in Holy Communion. It is the best way to prepare our hearts to receive Him. Jesus fasted for forty days to prepare Himself for His ministry. The season of Lent is forty days, from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday. Our Lord requests us to “keep Him company” during this short period of time, to focus on His love and purpose in our life, and not be distracted by things of this world. It’s a small request. Let’s sacrifice a little for the Lord. After all, it is for our own spiritual benefit.

Help us, Lord God, to prepare our souls for the passion and death of our Savior Jesus Christ, that we may be worthy to celebrate with Him in His glorious return. Give us the grace to understand that our fasting and abstinence are not done to please You, but only to make us feel worthy of Your great love. Amen.

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