Deacon Stu Dobson’s Reflection 2-24-23

Friday after Ash Wednesday, February 24, 2023
Is 58:1-9a; Ps 51:3-6a, 18-19; Mt 9:14-15

When I was young, I often fasted for two reasons, one, because I was trying to get my body in shape for Cross Country season. I felt that if I fasted, I could strip all the excess fat from my body (even though I already was less than 6% body fat at the time), and then build my body back up with more muscle. And second, because we were poor and oftentimes I did not have much to eat. I never thought much about it because, to me, it was a fact of life. If I did not eat, I did not eat, no big deal, I never felt hungry anyway. 

Now that I am much older, I find it difficult to fast. In fact, I tend to overeat now. I guess I can count myself amongst the wealthy who can fast; because they have plenty to eat. Not like the poor, and my earlier self, who could not afford enough to eat, and thus, had to fast regardless. I sometimes ponder my early years and wonder how I made it through. The only thing I can think of is, God was there watching over me and making sure I did not feel hungry.

This brings us to today, the first Friday in Lent. We just had a day of fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday, and now we have Jesus saying we do not have to fast and abstain on this first Friday of Lent? Hold on a minute, that is not really what He is saying. When the question was asked, and the statement given, it was asked during a time of great joy, when He and His disciples were all together. Jesus used the analogy of a wedding feast to explain we have joy when the bridegroom is there and it is a time to celebrate. While John’s disciples did not understand what he was saying, Jesus was in fact referring to Himself, the bridegroom of the church. Jesus further clarifies this by saying there will be time to mourn when the bridegroom is taken away, referring to his eventual death. 

In the Old Testament, fasting was considered part of the mourning process. Basically, a complete removal of any food, or abstaining from anything to eat at all. It will be a time of mourning when Jesus is taken away. But for now, He is there and they do not fast. So why do we still fast and abstain? For several reasons.  Fasting is a time for penance, a self-sacrifice time to prepare ourselves for the great feast of Easter. It is a time to recognize our sins and repent. What better way to give repentance than to sacrifice something for our sins and give glory to God?  Abstaining from meat follows from tradition when red meat was very expensive and considered an indulgence. By abstaining, we show our willingness to sacrifice and do penance for our sins. 

There will be a time of great rejoicing and joy soon. But for now, we emulate the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert preparing for His coming mission, His mission to sacrifice Himself for us. The least we can do is spend the remaining of these 40 days honoring Him by fasting and abstaining at least one day a week, more if you can. By doing so, our sacrifice will bring us closer to Him and prepare our hearts for His resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Published by St. James, Belvidere

Saint James Catholic Church, Belvidere, IL