Friday after Ash Wednesday

Is 58:1-9; matt 9:14-15

The Question About Fasting


We associate fasting usually with abstaining from food only. As kids we refrain during Lent from eating sweets. My father refrained from smoking his beloved cigars. A friend abstained from alcohol until Easter. But today’s Word of God strikes us, because God does not speak of abstaining from food as the real fasting He desires. When we continue to commit social sins, such fasting insults God!

Through Isaiah, God reminds us that real fasting is not so much abstaining but with doing something positive.


Real fasting which pleases God means to reach out to the poor, share what we have with those who have not. In the same sense as today’s reading from Isaiah, real fasting is to do what Jesus once told in the Parable of the Last Judgment: give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, take care of the sick and visit the prisoners (Matt 25:35-36). In other words, real, God-pleasing fasting is a loving outreach through charitable works.

A new teaching or interpretation? Far from it. By lessening the stress on abstaining from food, the Church wants to guide us to the real meaning of biblical fasting. Will the Church succeed? I am very pessimistic. The televangelists  and popular preachers offer their audience an easy way. And who will not be tempted to follow them rather than follow the more difficult way the Holy Spirit teaches through the Bible?

We can choose. We must choose. We are free to choose. But we should be aware that the promise of God is with those who go the difficult way, the way of the Cross. That’s the only way that leads to the eternal Easter. So, choose but choose wisely! Choose the way God’s Spirit shows! (Fr. Rudy Horst, SVD Bible Diary 2002)


According to the Jewish law, there was only one mandatory fast a year. A fast meant that you didn’t eat anything during the hours between dawn and sunset. However, John’s disciples and many Pharisees fasted two days every week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Everyone agreed that John the Baptist and these Pharisees were holy people. Therefore, if Jesus were a good person, he and his disciples, should also fast. Jesus’ answer: “if someone invites you to a wedding feast and you refused to eat, it would be an insult to the couple. Some occasions are appropriate times for fasting and other times are appropriate time for rejoicing. Now, the Savior has come and it is appropriate not to fast but to joyfully celebrate.

This made the Jewish leaders very angry for what Jesus implied – -that sometimes fasting did not make God happy! Jesus had the audacity to say that He knew what God was thinking and what things pleased God.

The Pharisees say that the more days one fasts and the more prayers one says, the more pleasing to God. Jesus teaches us that the purpose of all devotions is to express our love to God. Otherwise fasting and prayers have no value and may even be harmful to oneself and others.

Jesus teaches us that our devotions must be appropriate to the circumstances of our life. Jim did not quit his job….. (Fr. Al Villarante, SVD Bible Diary 2004)


People are frantic in losing weight and keeping in shape. They try all possible means like dieting, playing their favorite sports and lifting weights. It is a fad to be “slim.” Articles and medicines that promote diet, exercise, sports and the like seem to be the bestsellers. Fasting from certain meals or food is in vogue.

Fasting is an old religious practice to show one’s contrition, to discipline one’s carnal desire or concupiscence and to strengthen one’s spirit. Even Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights in preparation for His public ministry. In the Old Testament, people fasted in the hope of having their petitions heard or to appease God’s anger as in the story of the people of Nineveh. The first reading today expressing what fasting meant to God. Although fasting usually involves depriving oneself of food or drink, God sees the intention why one fasts. He is more pleased when we go beyond the self-deprivation; the reason must be for loving God in our brothers and sisters. Corporal and spiritual works of mercy are far more important than any sacrifice or offering. God desires mercy than sacrifice. In this season of Lent, He particularly invites us to be more generous and self-giving to others in terms of feelings, time, energy and material wealth. (Fr. Jerome Cayetano, SVD Bible Diary 2006)


One of the text messages which I received last year was this: “Lenten diet – 1. Eat your words, 2. Swallow your pride, 3. Digest God’s teachings, 4. For dessert, indulge in prayer.” What a menu for fasting! And to complete the Lenten trio: share with the poor. These three Lenten acts are to go altogether: fasting, prayer, almsgiving.

Fasting gives us a training to die, that is, to teach ourselves how to keep distance from materials things none of which we can carry when we physically die. In itself, it looks like a formidable way of communion with Christ who died for our salvation. Prayer and almsgiving keep us in proper perspective, for indeed without communion with God, the suffering we get in fasting becomes a form of masochism. Almsgiving helps us to stay alert to the fact that we are still in the world with others.

In the context of the Gospel, Jesus recommends fasting only when “the groom is taken away from them,” that is, from the wedding banquet. Our faith teaches us that we are called to the banquet of the Kingdom. When we lead our lives in accordance with God’s will, partaking with Him in this banquet becomes a constant experience. However, when we sin, it is as if “the Lord is taken away…” from us that is, we lose consciousness that He is with us. Losing consciousness of His presence is like keeping ourselves from partaking in the banquet. Indeed, sin “takes the groom away” from our consciousness. From this, we can deduce the second moment when he is taken away from us: His own death on the cross. Hence, Ash Wednesday becomes “the moment” we admit the reality of our sinfulness, the many times when we have lost consciousness of Him in our lives. Good Friday is that one particular moment when He was really taken away from us. If this is the case, shouldn’t we then fast? And when we do, aren’t we then living according to the Scriptures as he Himself did?

As the Lord did the will of God and suffered, let us learn how to take our own sufferings in His Spirit. Hopefully, the Resurrection should not be far from us. (Fr. Bernardo R. Collera, SVD Bible Diary 2007)


Jesus in today’s gospel puts things in their proper perspective. His disciples, unlike the disciples of John and the Pharisees, do not fast because He is with them. The reign of God which has come in His very own person primarily calls us to rejoice and celebrate the unfathomable generosity and love of God that is manifested in Jesus’ presence among us. Instead of focusing our attention on what we do for God through our sacrifices, Jesus rather wants us to open our eyes to see what God is doing in our very midst. When we deeply realize how much God loves us, then we discover that in spite of our mourning and hard labors, we are called to be joyful disciples, because Jesus, the Father’s gift, is with us. When we are centered in God’s gift for us and not in our self-centered sacrifices for Him, then we start announcing the Good News: the joyful feast of God’s universal love. (Fr. Edwin de Leon Fernandez, SVD Bible Diary 2008)


February 12, 2016 Friday

I remember one time I was asked by a chubby lady parishioner about fasting. She said, since she became health-conscious, she had been into fasting, foregoing meals and abstaining from unhealthy food. While Christians are asked to fast during Lent, the practice was no longer a novelty for her as fasting was already part of her daily routine.

To fine-tune her idea of fasting, I said that in the Scriptures, fasting is always connected to prayer. When the faithful of the Old Testament would petition to God on something they would fast. If they would like to express repentance for sins committed, they would fast. That is why fasting is connected to prayer. When the faithful fast, they pray. In her case, she did not pray while fasting, so she was not fasting per se. She was just on a diet. The simple but important difference between fasting and diet is PRAYER.

In our gospel today, Jesus was asked by the Pharisees about the practices of his disciples. Following tradition, they were supposed to fast like the Pharisees. But, Jesus was quick in responding to their question. “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” He defended the actions of his disciples by referring to the wedding feast. What is the connection of the wedding feast to fasting? Jesus was trying to point out to the Pharisees that there was always time for everything. There is time to fast and time to feast. He was telling them that his presence commanded a celebration. With Jesus in our midst, Christians should be feasting not fasting. Like the Eucharist, His presence is a celebration. To go to Church especially on a Sunday is to celebrate together with the community. It is always a feast.

“When the bridegroom is taken away, then they will fast.” The season of Lent is a preparation for the great celebration of Easter. We journey with the Lord in his suffering and death. We all know that the death of the Lord is not the end. The Paschal mystery tells us that he suffered, died and rose again. His resurrection was a special event that changed human history.

Preparing to meet an important person or anticipating an important occasion or event comes in different ways. In the case of meeting the Lord in his resurrected body, we have to prepare inwardly, spiritually, one which entails little sacrifices like fasting with fervent prayer. But to stop there will not complete our being a Christian. A perfect preparation for Easter is to add almsgiving to fasting and prayer. We share what we have to others especially to the last, the least and the lost in society. These are the three pillars of our Christian faith. (Fr. Renato Tampol, SVD | CT, Manila Bible Diary 2016)



Today’s readings focus on fasting. Now, as we are in the very beginning of Lent, we should be prayerfully considering the kinds of fasting to which the Lord is calling us during this season. Each of us should set up a personal “spiritual program” for Lent, describing how we will carry out in concrete steps the exhortation to fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. This is not meant to be overly legalistic, as if there were some value in checking off items from a list of self-imposed requirements. What is important is that  we do not simply drift into Lent with no plan. This is a special season of grace and renewal, and we want to enter into it with all of our hearts.

Fasting has both interior and exterior aspects. Exteriorly, we do not eat meat on Fridays, and we eat less food on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We can also give up certain foods for other things during Lent. Interiorly, the aim is to cut into our natural tendency to satisfy our own needs and desire first. This frees us from slavery to our self-centeredness so that we can focus both on the will of God and on the needs of others.

God does not desire merely exterior sacrifices. Today’s Psalm emphasizes that what pleases him more is repentance and humility. “A broken, humbled heart, O God, you will not spurn.” It is not so much our hearts themselves that must be broken as our pride, selfishness, and independence. Fasting helps break down the hardness in our hearts and opens us to humility, and so makes our hearts more like the heart of Christ.

Fasting makes us more sensitive to others. Isaiah makes it clear that the kind of fast which truly pleases God is ultimately other-centered: “This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”

As we saw yesterday, the choice for God can seem like a kind of death – and this is certainly what we feel when we fast! But in fact, it is a step toward real life. Our focus is not simply on what we give up, but on what we gain. We are following the way we set out for us by the Lord, the way to the eternal wedding banquet, where there will be no more fasting, and we will be forever united to the Groom! Look at in this light, fasting is not really “self-denial” at all; rather it is a putting to death of the false self so that our true self can be raised to fullness in life.

With this in mind, we enter into our Lenten fasting with a humble heart, trusting in God’s promise that our “light shall break forth like the dawn” and our “wound shall quickly be healed.”

How can I make more room for God in my heart? In what ways am I going to fast this Lent? How can I show my love for God by loving the persons whom I see and encounter everyday? Is there someone in particular I need to reach out to during this Lenten Season? (from: Pondering the Word The Anawim Way, February 22, 2012 to April 5, 2012, Cycle B Year 2 – February 24, 2012 pp.26-27)


Soul Food: A priest went into a restaurant to have a late dinner. He chanced upon a group of rowdy teens shouting, making fun of the food, and heckling the waitress. When the food was set before him, he bowed his head in prayer, said grace and made the sign of the cross. One of the smart alecks in the group thought of making fun of the priest and spoke in a way audible to the whole diner, “So we have a saint in the house.” Turning the priest he asked, “Does everyone do that where you came from, padre?” The priest turned to the boy and responded quickly, “No son, the pigs don’t.”

Does it really make a difference if you bless the food or not? Does the prayer make the food more palatable? Does the blessing banish all the unwanted calories and cholesterol? I concede it probably won’t.

So do I bless my food everytime I sit before the dining table? Yes. I do, always. I bow my head in prayer and utter a prayer of thanksgiving because when I do so, the food ceases to be just a bodily and gastronomic treat. When I bless God for the food I take, it becomes food for the soul as well. When I bless the food I take, I open my heart in gratitude and my soul is nourished as well. When I bless God for the food I take, I dispose myself to the consciousness that “man does not live by bread alone, but from every word that comes from the mouth of God,” (Matthew 4:4). Food not prayed over surely nourishes the body, but food blessed and prayed over nourishes the body and soul.

This is why fasting is an essential part of Christian spirituality. Both the First Reading and the Gospel speak of the practice of fasting. Why do we fast? Not because food is bad. We fast in order to tame our physical appetite, which aims only for self-satisfaction, so as to rouse our spiritual appetite to “free the oppressed, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and clothed the naked,” as Isaiah the prophet enjoins us in the First Reading.

Reflections/Questions: Do you engage in fasting as a conscious practice to rouse your spirit or is fasting simply for you a dietary requirement? What is the social and apostolic dimension of your practice of fasting? (Fr. Joel Joson, Sabbath Scripture Meditations for Daily Life 2014, Quezon City: Shepherd’s Voice p. 69)


Reflection: The disciples of John interpreted the literal meaning of fasting when they asked Jesus this question: “Why are your disciples not fasting?  Then Jesus replied in a meaningful way when He said: “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? Of course His disciples were not literally fasting or denying themselves food because He was with them.

We have here the question about literal fasting or fasting that is seen which the disciples of John and the Pharisees were doing. Jesus disciples were obviously not doing this kind of fasting they were in fact joyous because Jesus was with them.

Perhaps, Jesus disciples were also fasting albeit in a different way. And these are by means of doing corporal and spiritual acts of mercy (Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit those in prison, bury the dead, teach the ignorant, give counsel to the doubtful, reprimand sinners, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offences willingly,  comfort the afflicted and to pray for the living and the dead).

In this gospel episode perhaps Jesus wants to open our eyes to the fact that true fasting is much more than just our willing abstention from food. True fasting is when we learn to give a part of ourselves so that others may live and know Jesus through us.  (Marino J. Dasmarinas)


Reflection for February 20, Friday after Ash Wednesday Matthew 9:14-15 Reflection: What does fasting do to us? It cleanses our bodies, when we fast we dictate on our bodies rather than our bodies dictating on us. For example when we see a delicious food, our bodies would normally dictate upon us to eat that delicious food. This is always the scenario: Our bodies dictate upon us and we succumb to it.

However, when we fast, it’s the other way around we don’t succumb to this dictate we contradict it, for what reason? For the observance of certain customs and tradition in this case we can cite our fasting during Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

In our gospel, Jesus was questioned by the Pharisees why His disciples were not fasting. Jesus answered them this: They are not fasting for the reason that the bridegroom (Referring to Himself) is still with them. Therefore their tricky question was properly answered by Jesus.

Literal fasting when done for a good reason is valid but when it’s done for people to see or to get praise from people. It becomes invalid or useless it’s much better not to fast when we do it for show.

But there’s a much meaningful and permanent fasting that God wants us to do. We permanently fast from oppressing others, we permanent fast from our arrogance and high sense of ourselves and we permanently fast from our greed and indifference.

Are we capable of doing this kind of fasting? – Marino J. Dasmarinas


CATCH UP – “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” – Matthew 9:15

The captain of the expedition in the thick African jungle was certain his team wouldn’t make it on time to the spot where the helicopter will meet them. Huge and heavy boxes that the African slaves were made to carry slowed everyone down. The leader thought of a novel solution: to increase the pay of the slaves if they speed up.

Halfway to their destination, the African slaves just stopped. With everyone refusing to stand up and having no plans on getting back on track anytime soon, the captain shouted, “I promised to increase your pay, even outrageous perks! Get up!”

The head of the slaves spoke with a straight face, “Sir, we need to stop. We need to allow our souls to catch up with our bodies.” He explained, “Our tribe believes that when a person runs too fast, the soul gets left behind.”

Have you been running too fast — too busy, stressed and overwhelmed by life? God wants you to stop and to fast from worldly concerns. Then allow His rest and miracle-bringing joy to catch up with you.

Friend, don’t miss the miracles of the Lenten season! Jon Escoto (

Reflection: What are you willing to give (time, talent, treasure) to make space for the transforming love, power and healing of this season?

Father, I’m excited for what You have in store for me in this season of grace. Give me the silence to listen and the courage to respond.


THE FASTING THAT GOD WISHES – Today’s Gospel and First Reading give us the essence of true fasting. While fasting is usually associated with dietary sacrifices and abstinence, the prophet Isaiah and the Matthew bring it to another level, that of personal and altruistic practice. God, through the prophet Isaiah, declares: “This rather is the fasting that I wish…” What follows is a long list of altruistic acts with no mention at all of food and dietary discipline.

I remember reading a story that circulated in the social media some time ago. When the door of an elevator opened, people were surprised to see an old woman, sitting on the back of a man whose hands and knees were on the floor. That picture went viral in the Internet.

It turned out that the old woman and the man were trapped inside the elevator. The old woman, who was standing with the help of a cane, immediately told the man that it was impossible for her to stand more than five minutes given her extreme osteoporosis. The man immediately offered his back as portable chair for the old lady. They were stuck in the elevator for a good 40 minutes.

In the interview that followed, it was also discovered that the man was actually a chairman of a company. That humble man gave literal and fresh meaning to the word “chairman.”

That is the fasting today’s readings call for. Forgetting one’s self and making oneself a gift for the other.

May we all fast this Lenten season in a way that truly pleases the Lord! Fr. Joel Jason

REFLECTION QUESTION: Read through Isaiah’s list of fasting that God wishes and see which of them you can add to your dietary sacrifice this Lent.

For You are not pleased with sacrifices, should I offer a holocaust; a humble contrite heart, O God, You will not spurn. Amen.


See Today’s Readings:  Year I,   Year II

Back to: Friday after Ash Wednesday

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