1) Opening prayer
Lord of the Covenant,
we have not to fear your judgment
if like you we become rich in mercy
and full of compassion for our neighbour.
May we not only know that you ask us
but practice with sincere hearts
to share our food with the hungry
and to loosen the bonds of injustice,
that through us your light may shine
and your healing spread far and wide.
Be with us in your goodness.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 9, 14-15
Then John's disciples came to him and said, 'Why is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not?'
Jesus replied, 'Surely the bridegroom's attendants cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is still with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.
• Today’s Gospel is a brief version of the Gospel on which we already meditated in January, when the same theme of fasting was proposed to us (Mk 2, 18-22), but there is a small difference. Today, the Liturgy omits the whole discourse of the new piece of cloth on an old cloak and the new wine in an old skin (Mt 9, 16-17), and concentrates its attention on fasting.
• Jesus does not insist on the practice of fasting. Fasting is a very ancient use, practiced in almost all religions. Jesus himself practiced it during forty days (Mt 4, 2). But he did not insist with the disciples to do the same. He leaves them free. For this reason, the disciples of John the Baptist and of the Pharisees, who were obliged to fast, want to know why Jesus does not insist on fasting.
• While the bridegroom is with them, therefore, they do not need to fast. Jesus responds with a comparison. When the bridegroom is with the friends of the spouse, that is, during the wedding feast, it is not necessary for them to fast. Jesus considers himself the spouse. The disciples are the friends of the spouse. During the time in which Jesus was with the disciples, is the wedding feast. One day will come in which the spouse will no longer be there. Then, they can fast if they so desire. In this phrase Jesus refers to his death. He knows and he becomes aware that if he continues along this path of freedom, of liberty, the religious authority will want to kill him.
• Fasting and abstinence from meat are universal practices which are actual. The Muslims have the fasting of the Ramadan, during which they neither eat, nor should they eat until the rising of the sun. Always more and for diverse reasons, persons impose upon themselves some form of fasting. Fasting is an important means to control oneself, and to dominate oneself, and this exists in almost all religions. It is also appreciated by sportsmen.
• The Bible has many reference to fasting. It was a way of making penance and of attaining conversion. Through the practice of fasting, Christians imitated Jesus who fasted during forty days. Fasting tends to attain the freedom of mind, self-control, a critical vision of reality. It is an instrument to maintain our mind free and not allow oneself to be transported by any breeze. Thanks to fasting, it increases the clearness of mind. It is a means that helps to take a better care of health. Fasting can be a form of identification with the poor who are obliged to fast the whole year and eat meat very rarely. There are also those who fast in order to protest.
• Even if fasting and abstinence are no longer observed today, the basic objective of this practice continues to remain unchanged and is a force which should animate our life: to participate in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Surrender one’s own life in order to be able to possess it in God. Become aware or conscious of the fact that the commitment with the Gospel is a one way journey, without returning, which demands losing one’s life in order to be able to possess and to find all things in full liberty.
4) Personal questions
• Which is the form of fasting which you practice? And if you do not practice any, which is the form which you could practice?
• How can fasting help me to prepare better for the celebration of Easter?
5) Concluding Prayer
Have mercy on me, O God, in your faithful love,
in your great tenderness wipe away my offences;
wash me clean from my guilt,
purify me from my sin. (Ps 51,1-2)