Friday after Ash Wednesday
(Isaiah 58:1-9a; Matthew 9:14-15)
Fasting – Isaiah in effect denies it in the first reading today, and Jesus delays it in the gospel. There is, therefore, cause to wonder about its worth.
Physicians often require patients to fast before undertaking various kinds of medical procedures. Of course, people needing to lose weight regularly fast for salutary reasons. Religious traditions, despite the reservations of the readings today, have long considered fasting a way to purification. Not only does it allow the body to purge itself of contaminants, but it signals a victory over one’s desires.
Although the practice almost mocks the meaning of the term, Catholics are bound to fast only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. That is, on these two days we are not allowed to eat between meals. But individual, more strenuous fasting is encouraged. Skipping a meal and even passing an entire day without eating can express genuine love for the Lord. We must remember, however, the fasting that pleases God most. As today’s reading from Isaiah proclaims, God wants us to work so that all people may be free. That is, we are to free the poor from excessive want so that their fasting may be a willful act of love and not an inescapable necessity.