Bottom line: Fasting may benefit bodily health but Jesus is concerned about something much deeper - a wake-up call for the soul.
Welcome to Lent. In this homily I want to address something that has always been part of Jewish and Christian tradition, but that we may neglect. This practice, however, is receiving a comeback. I'm talking about fasting.
Today the prophet Joel gives this word from God: "Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping and mourning." Throughout the Old Testament you can find calls to fast - to abstain from food for a spiritual purpose.
Jesus assumes that his disciples will fast. Today we hear Jesus say, "When you give alms...When you pray...When you fast..." Along with prayer and almsgiving, Jesus expects his disciples to practice the physical discipline of fasting.
Down through the centuries Christians have practiced fasting - for the sake of their souls - not for the sake of a perfect body. St. Thomas Aquinas was quite robust. They say he made jokes about himself being a walking wine barrel - and that they had to cut a crescent out of the dinner table so he could sit down. Nevertheless, he fasted and wrote powerfully about the three reasons for fasting.
Pope Francis called fasting a "wake-up call for the soul." His predecessor St. John Paul II fasted regularly. In 1980 he had a conversation with Monsignor Charles Murphy, dean of the North American College. Pope John Paul asked, "What happened to fast and abstinence in the Church in the United States?"
Our young people have helped us rediscover fasting, many of them adopting vegetarian or even vegan lifestyle. Among my young priest friends, fasting has come back - for example some eat only bread and water on Fridays or some other day during the week.
Lent reminds of the value of fasting. The Church has minimum requirements of fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The seven Fridays of Lent are days of abstinence from meat. You know that I recommend the Daniel Fast both for its spiritual and physical benefits.
Decide yourself what form of fasting you will embrace. Consider also fasting from "screen time" - television, cell phone and Internet.
Fasting may benefit bodily health but Jesus is concerned about something much deeper - a wake-up call for the soul. This is what St. Paul says today, "We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." As a sign of reconciliation and renewal, we will receive ashes on our foreheads, with these words:
"Repent and believe in the Gospel." Amen.
From Archives (Ash Wednesday Homilies):
Homilies for First Sunday of Lent ("Temptation Sunday"):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources) *New episodes for Ordinary Time leading up to Lent*
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron
Bulletin (St. Mary of Valley Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru