8th Sunday of Ordinary
A Homily - B Cycle - 2005-2006
First Reading - Hosea 2:16b, 17b, 21-22
Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13
Second Reading - 2 Corinthians 3:1b-6
Gospel - Mark 2:18-22
Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fast. People came to him and objected, "Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" Jesus answered them, "Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them than cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins."
In order to understand our Lord's reply to his critics who want to know why His disciples don't fast while the disciples of the Pharisees and John the Baptist practice fasting, we should first understand some things about the nuptial imagery that our Lord uses in the Gospel today that forms the substance of his answer.
Throughout salvation history, God has always understood the human family in nuptial or marriage terms. Consider the Book of Genesis. The story of creation's apex is in the creation of Adam and Eve, who had natural marriage. Throughout the Old Testament, God refers to Israel, the Chosen People, as His bride. When Israel was unfaithful to her covenant with God, the prophets, such as Hosea whom we heard in the first reading, often likened Israel to an unfaithful wife. In the New Testament, Jesus Himself chose to perform his first miracle at a wedding feast in a town called Cana. The Bible ends with the Book of Revelation and the narrative of the Great Wedding Feast of the Lamb of God.
Even church architecture reflects this nuptial imagery. Many Baroque churches have a baldochino, which is a canopy held up by 4 large columns over the main altar. The most famous baldochino is Bernini's masterpiece over the main altar at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The baldochino is a canopy over the wedding bed of the altar, where divinity and humanity are wed together in the Eucharist.
Our Lord's hearers would have been very familiar with such nuptial terms. In our Lord's time, the week following a wedding was a week dedicated to feasting for the families of the bride and groom. These persons were exempted from the weekly Jewish fasts, held twice a week. So, when our Lord refers to Himself as the Bridegroom and implicitly, his disciples who constitute the Church as the Bride, He is stating that no fasting can occur at the present time. There is a wedding to celebrate, after all. A new dispensation has begun! Our Lord does not baptize Judaism. Instead, Christianity is the New Way. It is an entirely new dispensation with the God-man, Jesus, at its center. Consequently, when the Pharisees hear Jesus refer to Himself as THE BRIDEGROOM, that must have turned a few heads. After all, only GOD could make that claim!
The idea of fasting comes at a good time, since we are just days away from Lent. I always advise people to make their Lenten resolutions the Sunday before Ash Wednesday so that they can start right away on Ash Wednesday. Many people make their salutary fasts every year - they'll give up TV or chocolate or beer. In effect, that's the extent of their fasting for Lent, in addition to the mandatory fasts of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. But how many of us can do much more than the salutary penances? Could we fast from our opinion? From having to have the last word? From talking back to our parents? From our eyes and curiosity? From speech, so that we can cultivate interior silence?
No matter what type of fasting that we perform, we must make sure that our penances and mortifications don't mortify others. Some people who give up food become very ornery and unpleasant. Oh, they're fasting alright, but committing lots of sins against charity along the way. That's counterproductive. Many ask why we fast in the first place? After all, our self-indulgent society wants to know why we would willingly deny ourselves rightful pleasures. After all, we work hard and deserve a break, right? Fasting doesn't make sense to the person who lacks spiritual depth, spiritual muscle. So, why do we fast? Could you answer that question? The answer's easy: we don't fast because the body is evil. The fact that our Lord took on our humanity has elevated the body to a new sanctity. We couldn't be a truly pro-life people and consider the body as evil. The body is holy and it is supposed to be a temple of the Holy Spirit. And yet we know that due to the wound of original sin, the body can get unruly. When the senses are satiated, we become numb and desensitized to spiritual goods and the value of sacrifice. Consider the fact that many people avoid big lunches. Why? Because there's a desire to take a nap after a big lunch - the body drags us down. So, denying ourselves a big lunch means we have a better shot at higher production after lunch.
This is true in the interior life as well. When the senses are constantly indulged, we turn inward, looking for the next stimulus to fill our desires. We cannot turn outward and see the needs of others, let alone listen to God and what He wants to accomplish in us. We need to control the body. The body should not control us. St. Paul once said that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak and that the soul is always at war with the body. Fasting gives us the discipline of mastery over our bodies so that we can open ourselves up to listen to God and increase our desire to pray and make the sacrifices needed to grow closer to Him.
Finally, it should also be noted that fasting and dieting are not the same. The object of fasting should not be weight loss. That may be a happy effect of fasting, but it should never be its purpose. Fasting is intended for spiritual growth, not for slimming down per se. All fasting should lead us to the joy in having discovered our Lord. This is so long as He, the great bridegroom is among them. It is joy, not fasting that should be the disposition of those who have found Christ. When we get away from increased prayer and a desire for God, fasting is the preeminent way to reconnect with Him. Fasting and mortification reminds us of our finitude and mortality and the need to remain joined to God and his sacrificial love.
Let us ask the Blessed Mother to accompany us on our Lenten journey this year. May our fasting and mortification lead us to the joy of having discovered our Lord, the great Bridegroom who beckons us into closer communion with Him.
Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!
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