“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” (Acts 13:2)
It was at Antioch that persons were for the first time called Christians. In today’s first reading, we hear more about this model Christian community at Antioch. It was not just a gathering of persons who behaved so much like Christ, but it was also a gifted community; a community of prophets and teachers. Above all, it was a prayerful community.
Indeed, prayer is the key. Without prayer, we are powerless. Without prayer, we are deaf we cannot hear from God, without prayer we are blind we cannot see the hand of God in our lives, without prayer we are dumb we cannot speak blessings over our lives. As Jesus would say: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4)
As we can see from the experience of the Church in Antioch, fasting is an essential component of prayer. Prayer and fasting should go together. When we fast, we discipline the body. St. Paul would advise us: “Walk by the Spirit and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit… these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would.” (Galatians 5:16-17).
Fasting helps in developing self-discipline. As St. Paul would say: “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable… I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:25-27).
By fasting and praying, we dispose ourselves to hear clearly from God. In Luke chapter 2, we encounter Anna, the prophetess, who never left the temple worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day. She was able to identify the child Jesus as the Messiah and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
This was exactly what happened in the Church in Antioch. While they were praying and fasting, they heard the voice of the Holy Spirit saying: “Set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work I have called them.” When we are devoted to God, we hear from Him like light shining in a dark place. In our Gospel passage today, Jesus says to us: “I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” (John 12:46).
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, teach me to discipline myself so as to hear more and more from you daily. Amen
Bible Study: Acts 12:24-13:5, Psalm 67 and John 12:44-50