REFLECTION FOR TODAY,
January 18, 2021
By Fr. Andrew Ibegbulem, OSA
“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”. Mark 2:19–20
In our gospel reference today, Jesus answers the question of why his disciples do not fast, using the imagery of new wine in old wineskins, and the presence of a bridegroom at a wedding feast.
Jesus’ response to the disciples of John the Baptist and some Pharisees who question Jesus about fasting reveals something they never knew. In their question, they point out that the disciples of John and the Pharisees follow the Jewish laws on fasting, but Jesus’ disciples do not. So, Jesus’ answer goes to the heart of the new law on fasting. Why do we fast?
Fasting is a wonderful spiritual practice. It helps to strengthen the will against disordered fleshly temptations and helps to bring purity to one’s soul. But it needs to be pointed out that fasting is not an eternal reality. One day, when we are face-to-face with God in Heaven, there will no longer be any need to fast or do any form of penance. But while on earth, we will struggle and fall and lose our way, and one of the best spiritual practices to help us return to Christ is prayer and fasting combined.
Fasting becomes necessary “when the bridegroom is taken away.” In other words, fasting is necessary when we sin and our union with Christ begins to fade. It is then that the personal sacrifice of fasting helps open our hearts once again to our Lord. This is especially true when habits of sin form and become deeply ingrained. Fasting adds much power to our prayer and stretches our souls so as to be able to receive the “new wine” of God’s grace where we need it the most.
In the word of St John Paul II, “Fasting is to reaffirm to oneself what Jesus answered Satan when he tempted him at the end of his 40 days of fasting in the wilderness: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4)… Today, especially in affluent societies, it is difficult to grasp the meaning of these Gospel words. Consumerism, instead of satisfying needs, constantly creates new ones, often generating excessive activism. Everything seems necessary and urgent and one risks not even finding the time to be alone with oneself for a while . . . Penitential fasting is obviously something very different from a therapeutic diet, but in its own way it can be considered therapy for the soul. In fact practiced as a sign of conversion, it helps one in the interior effort of listening to God.”
Reflect, today, upon your approach to fasting and other penitential practices. Do you fast? Do you make regular sacrifices so as to strengthen your will and help you to turn more fully to Christ? Or has this healthy spiritual practice been somewhat neglected in your life? Renew your commitment to this holy endeavor today and God will work powerfully in your life.
Lord, I open my heart to the new wine of grace that You wish to pour forth upon me. Help me to be properly disposed to this grace and to use every means necessary to become more open to You. Help me, especially, to commit to the wonderful spiritual practice of fasting. May this act of mortification in my life bear abundant fruit for Your Kingdom. Jesus, I trust in You.