The Lenten season is upon us, as we will be receiving the mark of the Cross on Ash Wednesday, allowing the words of the minister to penetrate our mind and heart, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” The Liturgy of Ash Wednesday sets before us three penitential practices – Prayer, Almsgiving, and Fasting – to help prepare us spiritually for the Paschal mystery of the resurrection of our Lord on Easter Sunday.
Prayer, Almsgiving, and Fasting form an integral unity in our spiritual preparation to help us “dispel all evil, wash guilt away, restore lost innocence, bring mourners joy, cast out hatred, bring us peace and humble earthly pride.” (Paschal Præconium) Integral though they are, I would like to focus on the value and meaning of fasting.
Sacred Scriptures teach that fasting is a great help to avoid sin and all that leads to it. In the very first pages of Sacred Scripture, the Lord commanded Adam and Eve to abstain from partaking of the prohibited fruit: “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (Gn 2, 16-17) The first fasting was ordained in Paradise. ‘You shall not eat’ is a law of fasting and abstinence. As we know, they failed to abstain from the Divine fast and we are all experiencing the effects of Paradise lost. All hope was not lost as God promised to send us the Messiah to redeem all of humanity from the effects of original sin.
The First Sunday of Lent, we will hear in the Gospel: “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry.” (Mt 4,1-2) Through prayer and fasting, Jesus overcame the series of battles with the tempter, preparing Himself for the mission of redemption that lay before Him.
Jesus teaches us that true fasting is to do the will of the Heavenly Father, who “sees in secret, and will reward you.” (Mt 6,18) Jesus also sets the example at the end of the forty days in the desert, responding to Satan: “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Mt 4,4) The true fast is thus directed to eating the “true food,” which is to do the Father’s will. (cf. Jn 4,34) If, therefore, Adam disobeyed the Lord’s command “not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” we, as believers, through fasting, need to submit ourselves humbly to God, trusting in His goodness and mercy. This is not easy as all of us are weighed down by sin and its consequences but through the sacrifice of fasting, it becomes a means to restore our friendship with God. Saint Peter Chrysologus states this so eloquently: “Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others, you open God’s ear to yourself.” (Sermo 43: PL 52, 320. 322)
May the fruit of our Lenten fast help us to cast aside all that detracts us from God and may it bring us to a greater commitment to prayer, daily meditation, recourse to the healing Sacrament of Reconciliation and active participation in the Eucharist, especially at Sunday Mass, and weekday Masses. With this interior disposition, let us enter the penitential spirit of Lent, through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, allowing the living Word of God to come and satisfy our deepest hunger: the hunger and thirst for God.
Please join us on Lenten Fridays for Stations of the Cross, Adoration, Confession, & Soup Suppers at St. William.
Fr. John Poncini, Pastor