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Fasting “for” Easter!

Father Gordon Kennedy

March 3, 2008
christinwilderness.jpgThis title may prompt you to say: “Fasting for Lent is hard enough but fasting for Easter is just too much!” Indeed, a better title might be “Fasting because of Easter." Whatever? Here’s the reason we fast -- some people in the Gospel once asked Jesus why they and the Pharisees fast often, but Jesus’ disciples do not fast. And Jesus told them:
The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved. (Mt. 9:14-17)
Fasting in the New Testament points toward participation in the paschal mystery. At the time, Jesus’ ministry and the kingdom were just beginning to break into human history so there was much reason to rejoice and give thanks. Jesus shows this in his teaching about fasting. Fasting is a way to identify with the Resurrection! An example may help.
Someone once commented to Fritz Kreisler, the great Viennese violinist of the last Century: “I’d give my life to be able to play as beautifully as you.” To which, Kreisler replied: “I did!” --meaning that over his lifetime, he did give up a huge amount, (of what many others might never sacrifice), just because he wanted to be the great virtuoso he became.
Full dedication marks the life of every Olympic athlete or concert pianist. For them, every waking hour is devoted to excelling in their chosen pursuit. In the process, they sacrifice pleasures and pastimes that people in other walks of life could never get along without. The apostle Paul uses the example of the athlete to elevate the context to the spiritual realm:
While all the runners in the stadium take part in the race, the award goes to one man. In that case, run so as to win. Athletes deny themselves all sorts of things. They do this to win a crown of leaves that withers, but we a crown that is imperishable. (1 Cor 9:24-25)
Such endeavours offer a model to which fasting can be compared. Fasting makes sense only when we view it as something undertaken with passion. Fasting can never be explained; it can never be understood. The worth (merit, meaning) of fasting lies in the faith and love with which it is undertaken. Without faith, fasting is meaningless.
We fast because we are looking ahead – to Easter when, through penance and with God’s grace, we will be more an Easter People; and toward Heaven where we shall be totally, wholly with God! So here and now, fasting is motivated by our sense of the “not yet” phase of our present life.
Even Mother Earth “fasts”! Leaving fields lie “fallow” is an image of fasting in nature. Nature’s fertility is renewed after a season without seeding. And, when a forest fire sweeps through a woodland, consuming everything that lives, within a year or two, new growth springs up, more lush and verdant than the old. Nature illustrates two steps toward new growth: emptying the ground of the old growth (as happens when we fast) and readying the earth for new life (as when we grow in love). This principle (fasting preceding the rebirth of nature) used to be echoed in the Church’s observance of Ember Days.
So the fruit of fasting is affirming and life giving. There would be few Olympians if athletes generally dreaded their training routines just as drudgery. It’s when they can see their goal within reach that they find no cost too great. And it’s the same with fasting! That’s why Jesus warns:
When you fast do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do; they pull long faces to let men know they are fasting. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that no one will know you are fasting except your Father who sees all that is done in secret; and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you. (Matt 6:16-18)