Friday after Ash Wednesday
In a letter to his brothers in the Society of the Servants of the Poor Saint Jerome writes the following: "In his kindness, our Lord wished to strengthen your faith, for without it, as the evangelist points out, Christ could not have performed many of his miracles. He also wished to listen to your prayer, and so he ordained that you experience poverty, distress, abandonment, weariness and universal scorn....he desires to include you among his beloved sons...for this is the way he treats his friends and makes them holy. ...he is asking you to grow continually in your confidence in him alone and not in others."
God often deprives us of the things that we love in order to pull us closer to Himself. As a gentle Father, He is removing that which is separating us from Him. When faced with these losses, with these crosses, we are given two choices that Saint Jerome goes on to mention, "either you will forsake your faith and return to the ways of the world, or you will remain steadfast in your faith and pass the test."
In today's Gospel Jesus tells the disciples, and us, that there will be a time when we will experience the loss of His presence. For the disciples this would be a real, physical absence. For us, more often, it is a spiritual absence or a dryness in prayer. It is at these times that we must hold fast to that hope that is within us. God is testing us and asking, "do you still love me even when you don't "feel" me present? Do you still love me even when the sweetness of my grace seems to have vanished?"
Fasting has the effect of making us hungry for the Lord. It is a reminder that "man shall not live on bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." It is a reminder that the things of this world do not satisfy, only God can satisfy.
The bridegroom has been taken away from us and so we fast. He has deprived us of himself in order that our faith may grow. But our hunger must not make us weak. Our hunger must not make us lose hope for this is the way he treats his friends and makes them holy.