daily biblical sermons


WHY WE FAST
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Friday, after Ash Wednesday, February 12, 2016
Isaiah 58:1-9, Psalm 15, Matthew 9:14-15


Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.

 

"The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast" (Matthew 9:15).


Christ has been physically taken from us by his passion and death on the cross, so now we are in the days of fasting that Jesus spoke of; and Lent is a traditional time of prayer and fasting, as Jesus prayed and fasted for forty days in the desert.


Why do we fast? The main reason why we fast is to love God with all our heart, to seek all our delight in him, to make him the center of our life, to live for him alone.


Eating gives us delight, yet we must eat to live. We are required to eat. Not eating is sinful, because it will kill us. It is suicide. But there is eating, and there is eating. Not all eating is the same. There is a big difference between eating to live, and living to eat.


A Christian must eat. Eating gives him delight, but he wants to seek all his delight in the Lord, not in other unnecessary worldly pleasures. So what should he do? He should eat very simply. This is the kind of fasting that I am talking about. He should eat only basic, very simple, healthy food. He should renounce unnecessary delicacies and delights, sumptuous, succulent food, fancy desserts, and dishes doctored-up with all sorts of spices and seasoning to enhance their flavor.


Thus he fulfills his obligation to eat, but avoids unnecessary delights that would prevent him from seeking all his delight in the Lord. Eating in this very simple, basic, and healthy way helps him to love God with all his heart. It helps him to have a truly undivided heart in his love for God. This way all the love of his heart can go directly to God, without being dissipated and dispersed in many other directions, which only weakens his ability to experience the love of God in his heart.


Renouncing worldly gastronomic concoctions, eating simply, and living a simple life, avoiding other unnecessary worldly pleasures as well, greatly helps us to experience God's love in our heart, and this is the only really meaningful and lasting joy in life. It is heavenly peace, divine love, and joy of spirit. This is how God wants us to live. That is why Christians are to live a simple life and eat very simply, avoiding unnecessary worldly pleasures that dissipate our love in many directions and make it hard to experience God's peace, love, and joy in our heart.


This is why celibacy is a higher state in life than marriage, as St. Paul clearly teaches (1 Corinthians 7:32-34, 38), for celibacy enables us to love God with all our heart, with an undivided heart, in a more radical, literal, and complete way than marriage. That is why priests, religious, and consecrated persons are celibate. This is why the Desert Fathers lived and ate so simply and austerely in the desert, renouncing the delights of the world and living a celibate life. They did this to be able to better experience the love, heavenly peace, and joy of God in their heart. This is why monks and members of contemplative orders renounce the world, live in cloisters, apart from involvement in the world, live and eat very simply, and are all celibate. They want all the love of their heart to go directly to God, and they want their heart to be undivided in their love for him. This simple way of living and eating, far from the ways of the world and from unnecessary worldly pleasures, is a way of life conducive to contemplation, to experiencing the love, heavenly peace, and joy of God in our heart.


The type of fasting I am describing requires eating, but only very simple, healthy eating. It involves eating only plain, simple, unadorned food, and avoids doctored-up fancy dishes and desserts. It avoids delicacies. For dessert it chooses fresh fruit, which is a necessary part of a simple, basic, healthy diet, instead of apple pie and ice cream, or ice cream and cake. It chooses plain vegetables, cheese, eggs, nuts, and whole-grain bread, rather than meat. Such a simple, God-centered life also avoids other unnecessary worldly distractions and pleasures as well, for the same reason, namely to remain centered on God in all things, and to avoid dividing the heart in useless and harmful ways.

 


II


We have been redeemed by Christ, and once we confess our sins and receive absolution for them by the merits of Christ's reparation-making death for our sins on the cross, God will give us relief from our depression and the pain of guilt in our heart for our sins. We then do not worry about making reparation before God for our forgiven sins, which is impossible for a human being to do in any case, for that is precisely why God sent his Son to die on the cross in reparation for our sins, namely to free us from them once and for all.


Our simple way of living and eating is not concerned about making reparation for our past, forgiven sins. Rather, its purpose is to grow in holiness, which is progressive sanctification, whereby we try to live more and more only for the Lord with all the love of our heart, with an ever more undivided heart in our love for him.


St. Paul tells us that Christ died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3) to free us from them. Therefore we are now to live no longer for ourselves and our worldly pleasures, but for him. "He died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised" (2 Corinthians 5:15). The reason for our fasting or simple way of eating and living is to be able to do this, to live for him, not for ourselves or our worldly pleasures. This is how we love God with all our heart (Mark 12:30) in a deeper way. This is how we serve only one master, not both God and mammon; not both God and unnecessary worldly pleasures (Matthew 6:24).


If we really believe that we are justified by Christ's merits on the cross, not by our own merits, then we know that we are justified and that our debt of punishment for our sins before God is paid and gone. We will no longer be concerned about repaying a second time a debt that has already been fully paid for us by Christ. Our concern will rather be a positive one, our further growth in holiness and the assimilation and integration into our personality and way of living of the "new man" that Christ has made us through our faith in him, because of his death on the cross for our sins.


To be still concerned about making reparation before God for our past and forgiven sins shows a lack of faith in Christ's work of saving us, and becomes a Pelagian attempt to save and justify ourselves by our own works, which is impossible. So instead of fasting in reparation for our past sins, we should fast in order to assimilate and integrate into our life the "new man" that Christ has made us; that is, to truly become "new men" in Christ, loving him with all our heart, living fully for him in every aspect of our life, and transforming our whole way of living.

 

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