Friday after Ash Wednesday
We’ve recalled our place in the order of creation and our need for total dependence upon God; we’ve seen how hard it is to forsake wealth and security to seek first the Kingdom; we’ve seen the riches that come with losing all for Christ, repented of our self-idolatry and have turned toward the Cross that saves us.
Suddenly, our time of fasting and mourning is interrupted.
Followers of John the Baptist—known for his asceticism—ask Jesus why His followers do not fast at all while they and the Pharisees fast a great deal. A fair question; after all, fasting is a holy and virtuous devotion and one would think that a man who claimed to be the Son of God would advocate its practice more than He seemed to. His answer must have been astounding, especially to John’s followers: Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?
This must have cut straight to the heart, for how recently had their spiritual leader said: The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. The followers of Christ lived in a state of joy, for His every word was their joy; His very Incarnate Self is the marriage of God and Man. John admits that the bridegroom “must increase, and [he himself] must decrease”; the bridegroom—Christ—is greater than he and therefore His teaching is greater. In the absence of Christ we fast in waiting for Him; in His presence, we feast.
What of our own Lenten fasting? Being that Christ is present here with us “until the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20) is it even appropriate? The answer is yes: for we no longer fast because it is laudable, but rather for love of Christ. By our suffering we come to the Table of His Sacrifice and join Him there, drinking of the cup from which He drank (Matt. 20:22) and eating the bread of His tears (Psalm 42:4). The Cross transforms our fasting of penance into a feast of love, passing up the hors d’oeuvres of the world for that which will satisfy. Let us fast, let us do penance, but let us do so with joy in our hearts, for happy are those who are called to the Supper of the Lamb.