Friday, February 23, 2007

Friday after Ash Wednesday
Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr
The Fast that Helps

Readings: Isaiah 58:1-9a; Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 18-19; Matthew 9:14-15

Today being a Friday in Lent, many of us will be abstaining from meat. Some will even be fasting in some way – from food or the TV or the computer… So it is very appropriate for us to listen to these readings today because they invite us to reflect a little more deeply on the significance of our abstinence and fasting.

In the gospel, Jesus makes it very clear that fasting is not an end in itself. If it were, then his disciples would fast. But the aim of fasting is to help us to see and experience God more clearly, to welcome the divine Bridegroom more wholeheartedly when he comes knocking on our doors each day. And since Jesus is already present among his disciples, they need not fast. Fasting is meaningful only in so far as it brings us closer to God.

If that’s the case, then there is a kind of fasting that helps and there is a kind that hinders. The kind of fasting that hinders is the kind that keeps us focused only on ourselves. We take pride in the fact that we are fasting. We may even think that by our self-denial we are somehow doing God a favour. And because we are so caught up in ourselves, we fail to notice the God who is present among us. We fail to welcome the Bridegroom when he comes. And the first reading gives some very concrete examples of how we might fail. We fail to see God who comes to us especially in the faces of the poor and the oppressed. We fail to see God who is present among us, for example, in our domestic help. How can our fasting please God if, at the same time in which we fast, we continue to work them to the bone, continue to squeeze every last ounce of energy out of them?

In contrast, the fasting that helps – the fasting that delights God – is the kind that takes us out of ourselves. It is the kind that helps us to experience God’s compassion for us, sinful and helpless as we are, and then to extend that same compassion to others. The fasting that helps is the kind that cultivates in us humbled and contrite hearts as well as compassionate and helping hands.

How is our fasting helping us today?

1 comment:

  1. I've always had mixed feelings about fasting. Not that I don't see any merit in it; I just cannot pin-point the merit that I hope to gain through fasting.

    After the Ash Wednesday Mass on campus last week, Friar Jivan Daniel, o.f.m. and I were having dinner as usual with some NTU Catholic students when one of them proudly dumped a huge bag of MacDonald chips in front of us and invited everyone to take some. Asked why she likes fries so much, the student replied that she cannot do without them. To which Friar Jivan promptly replied, "Then you should fast on fries".

    Indeed fasting is not only about food. It is to deny ourselves something that has, as it were, taken hold of us and become part of us. Mind you, some of these things may not be bad in themselves.

    Nature abhors a vacuum, so what we take away from our lives, something else takes over. And so as not to relinguish control over our own lives, we have to "plug the gap". This Lent, I plan to plug the gap by reading and reflecting more, something I had always wanted to do but never found the time to do it. This Lent, by the grace of God, I will find that time.

    Thanks, Fr Chris, for all the fresh insights into fasting.