Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.
I find the criteria we use to judge how holy other people are quite fascinating. And quite hilarious too. If the passage before this, we find the Pharisees asking Jesus’ disciples: “Why does your teacher eat with sinners?” In this one we find the disciples of John asking Jesus: “Why don’t your disciples fast?” Here are two samples of how we view holiness. One view says we shouldn’t eat with sinners. Another says we shouldn’t eat at all. What do *you* think we should do?
The question wasn’t flippant. It is a serious one and I request you to ask it of yourself because I suspect a lot of us do things simply because others are doing them and don’t want to appear less “holy” by not doing them. Consider abstaining from meat during certain times of the year. Why do you do it? Because you really want to, or because you are worried about the opinions of others?
Fasting is a good practice, and one that Jesus engaged in often. The Holy Spirit wouldn’t have sent him off into the desert to fast for forty days unless he was disciplined in it. I spoke about the benefits of fasting a few episodes ago (see #26. Why Fast?). In addition to the reasons stated, an important one is to discipline our bodies. Paul said: I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
There are several ways we can fast. One way is the total fast, where we abstain from everything, except water, for a period of time, usually ranging from a day to a week. I don’t recommend doing this for longer than a week, because you can damage your body irreparably. If you do feel the Holy Spirit is telling you to do this, make sure you check it out with your spiritual director first. Don’t set out to fast for seven days in your first attempt. Do one day in a week first, then two, gradually building it up until you can do seven.
If you want to do something for forty days because it is what Jesus did , you can skip a meal — breakfast, lunch, or dinner — or choose to eat only vegetables for forty days. If you want to make it more difficult, since the purpose of the fast is self-discipline, you can choose to eat only fruit for the same period of time. The real struggle is only the first three days until your body gets used to the new diet; and the very last day when you realize you are mere hours away from eating regular food again and can’t wait to sink your teeth into some “real” food! There really are no rules when it comes to fasting. You can decide to give up whatever you want. Just show a little wisdom when deciding this.
May the Spirit be with you.