"The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast." Matthew 9:15b
It was usually the Pharisees that questioned the practices of Jesus. If He was fasting, there were questions about that. If He was eating, they accused Him of being a glutton. In this particular passage, however, the ones questioning Jesus were the disciples of John the Baptist. They spent time in fasting. The Pharisees spent time in fasting. Why did not Jesus and His disciples fast? I love His full answer to them:
"Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast."
In other words, the whole purpose of fasting was to draw closer to God. But God was with them--God the Son--so why in the world would they be fasting? There would certainly come a time when Jesus would be taken away from His disciples (both when He was crucified and, ultimately, when He ascended). Then they would fast.
It is a Catholic tradition to fast meat on Fridays, but especially during Lent. I always wondered why? Well, there are really at least a couple of reasons. Fasting on Fridays in general is a way of remembering and focusing on Christ's crucifixion on a weekly basis. During Lent, of course, as we prepare ourselves for Good Friday (and Easter!), that is especially significant. The absence of meat is also a way of identifying with those who are poor. It is often suggested that perhaps we should give to the poor the money we save (by not buying meat).
Our family has chosen to put aside what we save in a box for Operation Rice Bowl, an outreach of Catholic Relief Services. CRS is the official overseas relief and development agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. We keep our giving box right on our dining room table, as a reminder of why we give.
The most important reason to fast, though, as I see it? To identify with our Lord. He spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness as He prepared for His time of earthly ministry, and, ultimately, His crucifixion three years later. Our times of fasting are to be times of preparation for what God has for us as well.
My offering to God: I will fast today and spend mealtime in prayer.