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Finding Joy by Fasting
Memorial of Saint Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church
And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and the disciples of the Pharisees do the same; but yours eat and drink.” Jesus answered them, “Can you make the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days.” And he also told them a parable. “No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one. Otherwise, he will tear the new and the piece from it will not match the old cloak. Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined. Rather, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins. And no one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”
Opening Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I thank you for this opportunity to be with you in prayer. Increase my faith, hope, and love so that I may receive that which you wish to give, and give that which you wish to receive. I bring myself and the people entrusted to my intercession to this time of prayer and ask you to bless us.
- Why Fast?: “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and the disciples of the Pharisees do the same; but yours eat and drink.” Fasting helps us keep our appetites in check by not inordinately giving in to them. Overindulgence of appetites weakens our will and deadens our spiritual sense. The Catechism tells us that fasting and abstinence “help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart” (CCC 2043). The sacrifice is merely a means; the goal is to open ourselves more to God and to our neighbor. Christian asceticism does not separate itself from the world because the world is bad, which is a concept present in Buddhism, rather because a certain degree of detachment frees us to unite more deeply with God (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Ch. 14 on Buddha). Christ himself fasted forty days while in the wilderness both to prepare for his public ministry and to overcome temptation (Luke 4:1-13). Fasting is therefore a profoundly Christian tradition; in it we unite ourselves with Christ’s fasting in the desert (CCC, “Fasting”).
- The Bridegroom: “Can you make the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?” Jesus fasted, mourned, wept, suffered, and died, but he could also be joyful and celebrate. Following Jesus’s example, the Church has always lived and encouraged a balance along the way. During Advent and Lent we fast and sacrifice, but during Christmas and Easter we celebrate. However, sacrifice and joy are not on equal footing. Fasting and sacrifice are means to attain the goal of joy, the joy for which we were created: union with God. Therefore, rooted in the goodness of God and his creation, joy is much “larger” than the denial of aesthetic practices. To be in the presence of the bridegroom should cause deep joy.
- New Wine: There is a deep continuity between the Old and the New Testaments. Together they depict the unity of one great salvific plan. The Old Testament prepares the way for Christ and has much to teach us, whereas the New Testament, with Christ’s arrival, brings about the fulfillment of the Old Testament and reveals its full meaning (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, nn.15-16). Christ’s arrival also brings about something radically new: the Son of God made incarnate. Previously, God’s union with humanity was strained due to our sin and infidelity. Now, in the person of the Eternal Son made man, God and we will never be separated. Additionally, those who are united to the Son by grace now have the opportunity for everlasting union with God. That is a qualitative difference from the Old Testament. That is why in another passage Jesus said, “among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11). Christ is the new wine, not limited by the wine skins of the Old Covenant. He does not contradict the Old; he surpasses it.
Conversing with Christ: Lord Jesus, I marvel at the salvific plan you began to unfold immediately upon the fall of our first parents. You patiently prepared our hearts to let us see our need for you. Then in the fullness of time you came among us as one of us, the very Son of God became our brother and Redeemer. I see your salvific work played out in my own personal life. You let me see my weakness, and still you come to my aid. How wonderful you are!
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will take time to remember how you have been at work in my life and express my gratitude.
For Further Reflection: Read Did Jesus Reject the Old Law?
Written by Fr. John Bullock, LC.