The Question about Fasting
Among the many traditions passed down by the Church to us is the practice of a one-hour long fasting before receiving Holy Communion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 1387) says: “To prepare for worthy reception of this sacrament, the faithful should observe the fast required in their Church.” This was observed strictly in the past but today it seems that many of us do not observe this faithfully. It is because one time I was invited to celebrate Mass at twelve noon for a bank anniversary. I waited for fifteen minutes because only two employees were present and others were eating their lunch first. After fifteen minutes, I started the Mass with four people present. I was surprised then when the Lord’s Prayer was sung, they came in and during Holy Communion they received the Body of Christ. So instead of fasting, feasting is ‘in’ for them with their long noon break. Others are fasting because they want to have a slim body while many other people in the world today do not have enough food to eat and thousands of them too die of hunger everyday.
The disciples of John the Baptist in today’s gospel and the Pharisees are upset with the disciples of Jesus because they do not fast. Fasting is one of the three most important religious duties, the others are: prayer and almsgiving. Fasting is traditionally a part of Jewish observance and as a means to subdue the flesh, humble oneself and implore God’s mercy. For some, as with many practices imposed out of fear and strict social code, it has become a show and lost its meaning. Fasting is done for the sake of conversion and penance.
But why fast if the Lord is with us and if we are gazing upon Him? Is He not the object of our hearts, the One we seek to find and the only One in whom we can rest? Jesus certainly does not have anything against fasting; after all, He has fasted for forty days and forty nights after His Baptism in the desert. There are very good reasons why we have to fast. These could be: for the sake of discipline; to make sure that we are still the masters of things rather than they to us; to make sure that we never grow to love them so well that we cannot give them up; we might deny these comforts and pleasant things so that after self-denial, we might appreciate them all the more and so on and so forth.
What is at stake here is more a question of why one should fast. Jesus Himself points out elsewhere that the Pharisees like to put on gloomy faces so that everyone will know that they are fasting. In the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the Pharisee thinks well of himself because he fasts twice a week, a reference to the common Jewish practice at the time. Jesus tells John’s disciples and the Pharisees that the standard for fasting is not the practice of a rigorous piety but all of our pious acts must have God at their center rather than a mere code of piety and this is the newness of His message (Matt 7:28) .
These Christ-centered pious acts can be done also through charity. Charity is the new wine in a new wineskin pours itself out to meet the needs of others, working for justice and the dignity of others, prayer to God and imitating the example of the Lord.
If we want a beautiful and healthy body and soul, how about doing regular fasting and prayer?