Again, we see a seeming contradiction between the OT readings and the NT readings – how come one reading (and the psalm) is talking about fasting, and then the next one is talking about a wedding as a reason not to fast?
I think an example will help illuminate this mystery. I don’t think I’ve ever met an engaged woman who ever said, "I’ll never fit into my wedding dress. I’ve got to eat more!"
Much in the same way, fasting is what we do as preparation for Easter, when we meet our Resurrected Bridegroom. However, the difference is that we are not fasting/dieting merely for our physical improvement. We are called to fast in a specific way for a specific purpose. Not eating any food, bowing our heads, dressing in black, and lying in ashes does little, except draw attention to ourselves, make us cranky or melancholy, and maybe even repels others from the faith. Even when we fast, it should be done for the building up of the Kingdom of Heaven.
- When we fast, we should give that food to others. Healing their hunger heals us as well.
- Protecting others from the cold, by providing shelter or clothing, results in God protecting us.
- When we respond to the call of the oppressed, our own calls (prayers) will be heard by God.
- Working to end injustice and bring about justice results in God granting us mercy.
This is the true fast God wants of us. Let’s pray that they do not end up as mere platitudes and "warm fuzzies", but rather that they take root in our hearts, and we act on them. This should be our prayer and meditation:
- How are we involved in promoting injustice, and how can we work to end it?
- How do we oppress others (e.g., by unforgiveness; by bickering, belittling, or gossiping; by living high off of the low wages of others), and how can we "fast" from these actions and attitudes?
- What good can we give to someone (who otherwise could not have it) that we would rather have for ourselves? (e.g., could I eat at home instead of eating out at a restaurant, and give that difference to the local food bank? Could I donate to a place that provides or even makes housing for others, rather than remodeling or redecorating my own house?)
(These are just my own example suggestions. Your own meditations upon these readings will probably cause you to led by the Holy Spirit to something completely different.)
After all this, we still have the question: why is a Gospel reading that seems to restrict fasting being read during Lent? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a reading like this after Lent?
The reason for this is that, while we are awaiting Easter, we do in fact have the Bridegroom present with us in the Eucharist. This is why we "celebrate" Mass – it is the wedding feast of the Lamb of God. We do not fast when we feast. (This would also be why Lenten observance is optional on Sundays – the Lord’s Day.)
So, remember to prepare for the wedding by fasting so you can fit into your spiritual tuxedo/dress, and don’t forget to get a gift for the Bridegroom’s family.