By By Rev. Fr. Rommel M. Arcilla
The Question on Fasting
posted 20-Feb-2016  ·  
4,286 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

In the Gospel of St. Matthew (Mt. 9:14-15), Jesus was asked by John’s disciples about fasting. “Why do we and the Pharisees fast much but your disciples do not fast?” For as long as the bridegroom is around, there is no need for fasting. A day will come when the bridegroom will be taken away and, then, they will fast. This was the prompt answer of our Lord to those who questioned him.

Fasting in the olden times was always accompanied with lying in sackcloth and ashes especially during the time of the prophet Isaiah. It is a big deal for the Jews in keeping the day of penance. They usually do that during times of pestilence and persecution and other calamities that would threaten their region.

Fasting in the present times is still a very important tradition that we observe in the Catholic Church and it is, indeed, both a spiritual and a physical exercise that helps us bring ourselves always connected with the suffering Messiah. It is a way where we also experience, though for just a very limited time, the experience of Jesus when He submitted Himself to a 40-day fasting in the desert before He started His public ministry.

Fasting is a form of denial. We deny ourselves of a very basic human need, our need for food to eat. In this way we are reminded that, true enough, man does not live by bread alone. Just the same we are reminded that as our physical self needs nourishment, our spiritual life also needs to be nourished and sometimes we need to deny ourselves of some basic physical needs in order to bring emphasis to our spiritual needs.

In our country, we are so observant of these days of fasting and days of abstinence especially during the season of Lent and Holy Week. At least, we are given the time to reflect and experience even for just a bit the suffering underwent by our Lord in order to save us all from our slavery to our sinfulness.

In the passage from Matthew, Jesus reviews the three works of mercy prescribed by the Mosaic law: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. He went on to highlight these three prescriptions by warning them on how they practice their obedience to the law: “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them ... Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do ... And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men ... And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites. (Mt 6:1, 2, 5, 16)”

If we will only be honest to ourselves, we know so very well that these warnings must be applied to us because we are never a pinch away from what the hypocrites do. We live our lives in utter hypocrisy and make believe.

Pope Francis would often emphasize Mercy and Compassion in his messages to all the countries that he has been to. In this case, it is presumptuous to figure out that what we need to show the whole world today, as we also try to revisit the sufferings of Jesus, is a genuine and a massive demonstration of our response to the call to be stewards of creation. It will be best presented if we will make good in our corporal works of mercy and compassion to our lowly brothers and sisters.

This Lenten Season is a call for all of us to do our part in “setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing our bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when we see them and not turning your back on your own (Is.58:1-9a).”

I wonder how it feels when we had perfectly observed the laws on fasting, penance and alms-giving, as prescribed by the law, but failed to be sensitive to the cries of the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the homeless orphan and widow.

As Jesus says: “Whatever you have done to these little ones (and whatever it is you failed to do to them), you have done it (or failed to do it) to me.”

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