June 21, 2023
Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” Matthew 6:16–18
Many today have abandoned the holy practice of fasting. Fasting is a powerful penitential practice that bestows great benefits upon the soul. The act of self-denial from certain food and drink, choosing instead simple nourishment from time to time, such as bread and water, or a reduced amount of food, greatly strengthens the soul and disposes a person to many spiritual blessings. Too often, we live for fleshly satisfactions and fall into the trap of trying to indulge our appetites on a regular basis. But doing so has the negative effect of tempting us to neglect the more important spiritual desires for holiness. By depriving ourselves of sensory delights from time to time, we become more disposed to seek the true and lasting delights that come only from God’s grace. Therefore, this passage above presumes that we do regularly fast and engage in other forms of self-denial.
Do you fast? Do you engage in other forms of self-denial on a regular basis? Daily prayer, reading the Scriptures, learning about the lives of the saints, and regular participation in the Sacraments all lead us closer to God and make us holy. But fasting and self-denial are also very important, so it is essential that we strive to embrace them as a part of our spiritual growth.
In this passage, Jesus specifically calls us to seek the interior rewards that come from fasting and self-denial. He points out that if we use fasting as a way of gaining praise from others, then we lose the spiritual benefits of our fasting. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving must all be done in a way that they are as hidden as possible so that our acts are truly sincere and not done so as to receive the earthly rewards of the admiration of others.
Additionally, the lesson taught in this Gospel can also be applied to other areas of our lives. For example, if you are suffering from some illness or some form of bodily pain or discomfort, then of course you should seek the necessary medical attention. But these physical ailments also offer us another opportunity for spiritual growth when they are embraced in a silent and interior way. Even our pain or discomfort can be transformed into grace if we choose to embrace it with joy, offer it to God as a sacrifice, and keep it to ourselves as a silent gift given to God.
Reflect, today, upon your practice of fasting, as well as every other opportunity you have each day to make silent and interior sacrifices to God. If you do suffer from some daily cross that is beyond your control, then try to turn it into a spiritual offering to our Lord. And if you are able to freely embrace fasting on a regular basis, then try to prayerfully commit to this practice. Try to do it every week, especially on Friday in honor of the Good Friday sacrifice made by our Lord. Don’t underestimate the value of these hidden sacrifices. Make them a regular part of your spiritual life and God will bestow upon you many spiritual riches from Heaven.
My sacrificial Lord, You denied Yourself of many earthly delights, especially when You fasted for forty days in the desert. Help me to take seriously this obligation to fast and to mortify my appetites. And help me to do so in a hidden way. May my life continually imitate Your perfect sacrifice so that I may become more like You every day. Jesus, I trust in You.