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Corresponding to the Grace of God
Memorial of Saint Anthony, Abbot
The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fasting. People came to Jesus and objected, “Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.”
Opening Prayer: Lord, open my heart to understand this passage of your word. Since I know you are present here, I can count on you to inspire me. Let me be open to your word; change me and mold me according to your will.
- They Cannot Fast While the Bridegroom Is with Them: This is one of those passages where Jesus talks in short parables, which can almost seem like riddles. From the rest of the Gospels, we can glean what some of the images mean. Here Jesus is deflecting the criticism that his disciples should fast by referring to himself in a sort of veiled, humble way. Jesus is the bridegroom; in John’s Gospel, John the Baptist calls himself the friend of the bridegroom. The reason his disciples didn’t fast was because being with the Master of the Universe gave them reason to celebrate and rejoice. They were privileged members of the wedding party! When we are with Jesus, our spirit should be full of rejoicing too.
- The Bridegroom Will Be Taken Away: Jesus was certainly speaking about his Passion, and in these words we find a key to why the Church encourages fasting. When we fast, we acknowledge that our bridegroom suffered and died, and we unite ourselves to his suffering as an act of devotion. Also, Jesus isn’t with us as he was in the holy time of his living on earth, and we are not with him in the way he wants us to be at the eternal wedding banquet, so we can fast as reparation to prepare for that perfect fulfillment. Fasting “ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepares us for the liturgical feasts and helps us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart (CCC 2043).
- The Cloth and the Wineskins: The Gospel gives us two other images to complete this teaching. Jesus is stressing that he is the fulfillment of the old law, the bridegroom, the King who “makes all things new” (Revelation 21:5). To sew an unshrunken cloth on an old coat or pour new wine in an old wineskin is to insist on our own limited understanding of truth, and it can result in spiritual ruin. However, to accept Our Lord’s teaching in its totality, to recognize his omnipotence, is to be included in the wedding party and invited to the eternal banquet.
Conversing with Christ: Lord, you are calling me to let you take the lead in my spiritual life. Help me to take a step back today and look at what I have been trying to do for you and for myself in my life. Let your word penetrate my heart and be the decisive factor. Let everything I do be more a response to you than my own initiative. Help me to respond in the right way to what you have initiated in my life, celebrating and rejoicing that you are present and active there.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will examine my conscience regarding my spiritual life and ask myself if I am truly corresponding to your will in my life.
For Further Reflection: What’s the Point of Fasting, Anyway?
Fr. Adam Zettel, LC, was ordained in 2017 and worked for three years as a high school chaplain in Dallas, Texas. Now he resides in Oakville, Ontario, serving youth and young adults.