There is something about fasting that is liberating. We have a natural tendency, an instinct, to preen and look after ourselves. This often goes to extreme and people become too self-engrossed, thinking only of themselves. Fasting allows us to stop thinking of ourselves, acknowledge our lowly origins and that, but for the grace of God, our lives are just “candles in the wind” – easily snuffed out and gone.
Our lives are made meaningful not by the accoutrements we put on but by the good we do for others. This is the reason why fasting is not only about denying ourselves of food but also includes rituals like putting on sackcloth and ashes on the forehead. This the reason why fasting must go with almsgiving, that we do good for others. This is the reason that fasting must be accompanied by prayers, our humble acknowledgement of God being in control over our lives.
Then, Jesus warns us against being too engrossed with the rituals and forgetting the essence of what we are doing. I listen to these words with humility and pray over them:
Is this the manner of fasting I wish,
of keeping a day of penance:
That a man bow his head like a reed
and lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
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.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed.
~ Isaiah 58:1-8
A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
~ Psalm 51
The disciples of John approached Jesus and said,
“Why do we and the Pharisees fast much,
but your disciples do not fast?”
Jesus answered them, “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.”
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