The art of fasting
July 07, 2018 Saturday, 13th Week in Ordinary Time 1st Reading: Am 9:11-15 Gospel: Mt 9:14–17
The disciples of John came to him with the question, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast on many occasions, but not your disciples?”Jesus answered them, “How can you expect wedding guests to mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? Time will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, then they will fast.
“No one patches an old coat with a piece of unshrunken cloth, for the patch will shrink and tear an even bigger hole in the coat. Besides you don’t put new wine in old wineskins. If you do, the wineskins will burst and the wine be spilt. No, you put new wine in fresh skins; then both are preserved.”
(Daily Gospel in the Assimilated Life Experience)
Fasting done for a show is poor entertainment. People who trumpet themselves hardly attract a handful of spectators. Jesus lamented the kind of fasting that the religious leaders of his times were performing. They did it for a show. But it was for very noble purposes that the Old Testament promoted it. First: as a token of sorrow (see 1 Samuel 31:13; 2 Samuel 1:12; 3:35). Second: as a sign of repentance (see 1 Samuel 7:6). Third: as aid of prayer in time of need and crisis (see 2 Samuel 12:16ff). Actually, the Israelite cultic law did not require any fast except on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29ff; 23:17ff; Numbers 29:7). But in Pharisaic Judaism, fasting evolved into a highly esteemed pietistic exercise.
This explains why the followers of John the Baptist questioned the apparent lack of devotion to fasting among Jesus’ disciples. The context of the question was fasting performed as token of sorrow. Jesus pointed out that such fasting was inappropriate in times of joy. The all-year-round fasting for a Christian is not one that dramatizes sorrow but one that enhances prayer and repentance. This was the kind of fasting Jesus went through for 40 days.
The Catechism for Filipino Catholics (art. 1686 and 1687) lists fasting among the “other means of conversion” along with almsgiving and prayer. But it describes as “especially helpful” the ordinary acts of loving service “which covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
When done for a show, fasting is not only a bad show but is also contrary to the Gospel values (Matthew 6:16). There are more noble reasons to fast than to put up a show. We can fast to overcome the power of evil in us (Mark 9:29), and to handle major decisions (see Acts 13:2 or Acts 14:23). The most noble is fasting to overcome the power of evil, including the evil of fasting for a show! —(Atty.) Rev. Fr. Dan Domingo P. delos Angeles, Jr., DM. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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