February 15, 2013 - Friday After Ash Wednesday

Isaiah 58:1-9
Psalm 51:3-6, 18-19
Matthew 9:14-15

The Gospel today reminds us of the special experience of the disciples of Jesus. They did not need to fast because he was there. If they wanted to pray, they could just go find Jesus and sit at his feet and listen to the words he spoke. In the Gospels, Jesus only appears to us when he is saying or doing something of great importance, but the disciples lived with him every day. They ate dinner with him. They slept wherever he was sleeping.

The fact that the disciples did not fast teaches us about fasting. Fasting is supposed to create a longing within us. This longing is always present, but we usually answer it with food or television or other diversions. This longing is a longing for God. We only answer it with lesser things because it is difficult to know God in this world, but, if God were present as Jesus was present to his disciples, we would never eat when we were not hungry, we would never zone out with television.

If a hungry man cannot get food, perhaps he will chew on bark or something else to pass the time, but, when he has food, he will throw away the bark and begin to eat. So we also, when we get to heaven and live in the presence of God, will throw away whatever we have used to quiet our longing for God. Here and now it is painful to throw these things away, since it is easier to eat a bag of potato chips than to pray for an hour. Still, we force ourselves to fast so that we do not forget what we really want, so that we do not forget what the longing is really for.

As we fast this Lent and rediscover our longing for God, we must be careful to not find a substitute for what we have given up. Particularly if you have given up television or the internet, you may find that you have literally hours of extra time each day. Now is not the time to become an avid reader of novels. Use the time for the other Lenten practices: prayer and almsgiving. Help those in need. Read the Scriptures. Spend some time in Adoration. If our fast is the kind of fast that God loves, it will turn us outward to God and to our neighbor.