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Why do we fast?

March 9, 2017

CHRIST was once asked this question. The disciples of John the Baptist and of the Pharisees wondered why they had to fast much while those of Christ did not. (cfr Mt 9,14-15)

The answer came immediately. “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.”

I suppose Christ was referring to himself as the bridegroom. In fact, in his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul referred Christ as the groom of the Church, that is, us. (cfr 5,22-32)

Christ can be regarded as the bridegroom who actually is with us always, but also not yet fully with us, given our human and temporal condition as of yet. We are still on our pilgrim way on earth toward our eternal destiny in heaven where Christ will be fully with us.

That is why Christ can be considered somehow as not yet with us, and that’s the reason why we have to fast. It is to train ourselves to seek him. It is to make us realize we need him, and that we actually will find our true and lasting joy with him. At the moment, we are still kind of mourning, as Christ said, because we are not yet fully with him.

We have to be clear about the reason why we fast. We should not just fast because we have been commanded to do so. We have to fast because, especially at these times when we are easily carried away by earthly pleasures, we need to sharpen our longing for Christ.

Fasting has a dual effect. One is the passive or the negative effect, which is that of disciplining ourselves – especially our senses and our other bodily faculties. This is the self-denial part. And the other is the active or the positive one, which is that of honing our hunger for Christ. This is the following part, as illustrated in the very words of Christ: “If any man wants to follow me, he must deny himself, carry the cross, and follow me.”

This two should go together, mutually affecting each other. One without the other would distort the true character and purpose of fasting.

And nowadays, we have to understand that fasting should not be limited to matters of food and drinks. It has to be extended now most especially in the use of the many conveniences that we now enjoy, like our new technologies, that have an effective way of enslaving us and blunting our love for God and for others.

We need to concretize our resolutions with regard to this need for fasting. This may mean that we have to set aside our cellphones from time to time, that we use the gadgets with clear rectitude of intention, that we refrain from complaining when these same gadgets give us problems as they often do also, etc.

We have to understand that everyday, the element of fasting as a sacrifice is actually a necessity to all of us.