Friday after Ash Wednesday
(Isaiah 58:1-9a; Matthew 9:14-15)
Some always question whether fasting is a worthwhile activity. After all, if it does any good, the benefit is not readily seen. Many even advisenot to fast during Lent but to do something of more obvious merit. Today’s first readings indicates that helping the oppressed is what the Lord wants most of all. But the gospel hints, at least, that giving up food is sometimes required.
Why is fasting a good thing to do? Three reasons have been long proffered in favor of fasting. First, fasting takes one’s attention from lustful objects and demonstrates one’s self-control. It is true – the more we think of food, the less will our minds wander to sex. More importantly, however, fasting raises one’s mind to God. The distress it causes makes one naturally look to God for relief. Finally, fasting is an act of penance which satisfies for sins. As the Letter to the Colossians says, one can join his or her suffering to Christ for the benefit of the Church. A fourth reason for fasting may be added. One can show love for God by refraining from what he or she enjoys. A man shaved his head when his wife was undergoing radiotherapy for cancer as an expression of solidarity with her. So people can think of their fasts as a way to express solidarity with Christ in the desert.
All adult Catholics are required to fast during Lent. We should not eat any meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of the season. We should also refrain from eating more than three times on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In these ways we show ourselves as members of a community on the way to renewal. Few people would say that these mandated practices comprise a great challenge. We might also augment our fasting by, for example, abstinence from sweets or alcohol. Such sacrifice will not hurt us Quite the contrary, they will likely enable us to emerge even stronger from the Lenten journey.