The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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February 25, 2000 Issue
Bishop Morneau's Column
"Reflection on the Readings"

Bishop Robert Morneau
Bishop Robert Morneau

To fast or not to fast, that is the question

The discipline of fasting leads to an authentic freedom and obedience

February 27, Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time

By Bishop Robert Morneau

Questions for Reflection:

1) What are your five key convictions of faith?

2) What role does fasting play in your life?

3) Are you a combative person, living on the edge of argumentativeness?

Argumentativeness can be a way of life. People disagreeing on politics, religion, sexual issues, economic policies, health foods, and the list goes on and on. TV and radio talk shows verify the prevalence of our contentiousness.

But this is not just a contemporary phenomenon. Two thousand years ago Jesus was constantly engaged in arguments and disagreements, as were his followers, Peter and Paul. In today's Gospel the issue is fasting - to fast or not to fast, that is the question.

Two years ago the former Dean of Westminster Abbey, Michael Mayne, wrote a book Pray, Love, Remember (London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd.). The author holds: "Leaders of all the world's great faiths read from their scriptures, and all affirm five shared beliefs: respect for the natural world, the worth of each person, the need to work for justice, peace and reconciliation, the supremacy of love and our membership in one human family." (41)

Since argumentativeness is engrained in the human soul, I can hear a reader or two (surely not more than three) disagree with the above conviction. Do all faiths hold these five convictions? And is not Christianity unique in its putting all of its eggs in one basket - or rather, in the person of Christ?

This brings us back to the Gospel. Fasting has its place in the spiritual life. It is one of the three major components of our life in God, the other two being prayer and ministry. As prayer relates us to God and ministry to our brothers and sisters, fasting and asceticism seek to get our own house in order. This discipline leads to an authentic freedom that makes obedience possible.

However, there are times when fasting is not appropriate. Wedding guests do not bring to the reception their Lenten practices. When new wine flows from the press, fresh, not old, wineskins are used for the storing. All this simply implies "knowing the territory," doing the right thing in specific circumstances.

Jesus is the new wine. St. Paul, sharing many faith convictions with his Jewish past, could not put the Lord in old categories. In Christ, all was new. In Christ, the Spirit of the living God brought us eternal life. As we know from the Acts of the Apostles, many disagreed with Paul and he paid dearly for that opposition.

What we find in the new wineskin is a vision, the vision of Jesus. Here is how Michael Mayne describes it: "His is a vision of a world in which people are more concerned with giving than with having, with sharing than with possession, with serving than with being served; where each is valued for what he or she is rather than what they have; where the narrow loyalties of class or race or tradition or party are of less weight than the solidarity of the human race created in God's likeness; and where in areas of conflict and violence forgiveness, and reconciliation have been proved to be the most powerful of all weapons." (33)

(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese.)

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