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Friday, February 19, 2016

Didn't Catholics get the memo that the Bible abolished fasting in the New Testament?

Lent is now upon us and Catholics and fasting may be a topic of conversation in the workplace or at family gatherings.

Some Protestants may view the Catholic practice of fasting during Lent as perhaps an exotic but odd practice, while others consider it evidence that Catholics don't follow the Bible--we fast, in the eyes of some folks, despite the Bible telling us we don't have to, and despite the Bible telling us we can't work our way to salvation.

Firstly, it is important to refute the idea that Catholics don't follow the Bible.  The Bible is our book, written by Catholics, for Catholics, and put together by the Catholic Church.  So of course Catholics follow the Bible!

Secondly, if anyone tells us that the Bible says we don't need to fast anymore (because Jesus stopped this Old Testament practice), we need to ask him where fasting is abolished in the Bible.

We can search from Genesis through Revelation and will never find a verse that says we shouldn't fast.

Now, it's true that Scripture does state this:

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke;--Isaiah 58:6

But that's not the same thing as saying that fasting is abolished.  What that verse criticizes are external works done without internal conversion.  In other words, if we fast, we should do it for the right reasons.

And someone may point out that 1 Timothy 4:3 says this:

They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth

But this verse is not about condemning fasting, but rather objects to those who divided food into "clean" and "unclean" (via the Mosaic law), for God created all things good.

In fact, the Bible is full of references to fasting:

Whoever wishes to be my follower must deny his very self, take up his cross each day, and follow in my    steps.--Luke 9:23
Then, completing their fasting and prayer, they laid hands on them and sent them off.--Acts     13:3
But the days will come, and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will         fast in those days.--Luke 5:35

But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face--Matt 6:17

And there are multiple references to the early Christian community engaged in fasting.

Thirdly, we should banish the idea from any critic of Catholics fasting that we are fasting as a means of earning our salvation.  We do not fast an act that earns us the right to enter heaven.
Nothing we do, no work we perform, can earn us our salvation.  We will never be able to demand, "Hey, I fasted an entire day in 2016, God, so now, let me in to the Pearly Gates!" 

We fast because we love.  We sacrifice because we love.

Anyone who loves knows that it's impossible to love without some sort of fasting/abstinence/sacrifice.  Whether it's fasting from sleep by getting up to help the sick child (letting our spouse sleep instead), or fasting from a day off, doing what we'd like, and instead taking our elderly parent to a doctor's visit...we all know that sacrifices are part of love.

Fasting can also be a form of penance--an act of self denial that we offer to God as a means of expressing to God our great sorrow for our sins.

And fasting can be a preparation for the Great Feast of the Resurrection.  As Archbishop Fulton said, "First comes the fast, then comes the feast!"

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