23 February 2007

THREE QUESTIONS ON FASTING


Friday after Ash Wednesday
Mk 9:14-15

Today, Jesus talks about fasting. Let us consider three things about the same topic today. Here are three things commonly misunderstood by many, even by devout Catholics.

First, fasting is only about food. Wrong. Fasting is not only about food because fasting does not focus on what is eaten (or not eaten) but on the one who eats. It is not the food that sacrifices when it is not eaten. It is us who sacrifice when we fast. Thus, the focus is on our selves, not on food. If so, then fasting can be on things other than food. We may fast from smoking, alcohol, gossip, “malling”, shopping, gimmick, and many others. But the most important and meritorious fasting is fasting from sin. The Pharisees, mentioned by those who question Jesus in the Gospel today, may do better if they fast from self-righteousness.

Second, fasting is only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Today is Friday but it is not yet Good Friday; thus, it is not a day of fasting, but a day of abstinence only, as far as Canon Law is concerned. But neither is fasting prohibited today. No one and nothing is stopping us from fasting today if we want to. In most monasteries, all Fridays of the year are fasting days, and still in some monasteries all Wednesdays are included. So why just abstain from meat when you can also choose to fast today? Do we not gain more merit when we fast when we are not obliged to do so?

Third, fasting is only about sacrifice. Wrong. That fasting is a form of self-denial aimed at regaining control over our basic cravings is only half of the picture. The other half is about solidarity with the poor. Fasting gives us the opportunity to be one with those for whom hunger is not an option but a daily experience. When we fast, we do not only sympathize with the poor. We empathize with them. We literally feel the pangs they suffer. The torment they endure, we know better not because we study about it but because we feel it ourselves. And in response, we are supposed to be deeply moved so as to live simply so that others may live and to share with the needy not only from our surpluses but even from our needs. It is in this regard why fasting is very much related to almsgiving. Whatever we save from our fasting does not belong to us anymore. It belongs to the poor. The money spared by our fasting should be used to alleviate the plight of the suffering.

Fasting is not only about food. Fasting is not only on the days prescribed by the Church. Fasting is most importantly about solidarity, not only about sacrifice. So what do we fast on? When do we fast? And why do we fast?

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