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Fasting and abstinence

The Bontoc District of the Apostolic Vicariate of Bontoc-Lagawe planned initially and implemented on April 12 the first District Lenten Recollection at Teng-ab, Bontoc, Mountain Province. It was attended by the different mission stations from different walks of life.

I was not expecting a big congregation. God touched many people and led them to Teng-ab, the sacred mountain of spiritual experience and spiritual encounter.

I was impressed to see the youth and children mixed with adult and senior citizens actively participating and listening.

The clergy of Bontoc District decided for a theme that is not actually new but reinvigorating in spirit, “Strengthening spirituality through the disciplines of Lent.”

The recollection revolved on these themes: fasting and abstinence, prayer, almsgiving, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The clergy did not invite outside speakers but acknowledged the capacity of their own human resources.

I was given the task on fasting and abstinence, Fr. Robi Dosom, SVD, on prayer; Fr. Evans Wokhongola, SVD, on almsgiving; and Fr. Michael Tokoyen on the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

I had many realizations which I collected from the personal testimonies of the retreatants. One of which is our presumption that our parishioners know well the meanings of Lenten and Holy Week practices when in truth many are not aware.

With all humility, many of us are not fully aware of the meaning of the practices that is why I find it of great help to have the Recollection become an avenue for everybody to be deepen their spirituality of Lent and Holy Week.

Here is an excerpt of my recollection spiritual talk. Why do we fast? Why do we abstain?

We go to the Bible particularly on Matthew 4:1-11(NIV)

1. Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2. After fasting 40 days and 40 nights, he was hungry. 3. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4. Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”5. Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:” ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”7. Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8. Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10. Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”11. Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

In the gospel reading the keyword and the key strength of Jesus was the practice of fasting. Jesus fasted for 40 nights and 40 days. He was physically hungry but he was spiritually filled. The devil saw the physical status of Jesus but failed to see the spiritual nourishment and strength. Jesus was full of confidence to declare the truth and drive away the evil one.

Temptations, cunnings, and deceptions are works of the devil. In fasting and abstinence, prayer, and almsgiving, we can read the deceptions of the devil, we can reject the temptations of the devil, and we can defeat the cunnings of the devil.

Fasting and abstinence, prayer, and almsgiving are spiritual disciplines and not sheer requirements for sheer compliance. These are Lenten disciplines that feed and nourish our soul.

Fasting was used in the biblical verse but not abstinence. But the discipline of Lent includes fasting and abstinence. Is there any difference?

The Roman Catholic Church describes fasting in the light of Lenten Discipline as reduction of food intake or sacrificing a meal for a higher purpose. Abstinence, on the other hand, is refraining from eating meat. Some schools of thought associate flesh or meat with pleasure, which I agree.

In the Igorot culture, a feast is not a feast without “watwat” or a piece of meat. “Inasin” or “etag” are special meat delicacies among the Igorots that give exotic taste to our food. So meat has a special place in our culture. The Lenten observance underlines abstinence from meat especially on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. If we practice this simple spiritual discipline of abstinence, we can apply it as well when confronted with pleasures that destroy our life.

Fasting and abstinence, therefore, are spiritual disciplines to deepen our spirituality and purify our motivations.

Second, honest observance of fasting and abstinence is also our gesture of repentance, reparation, and reconciliation. It is not enough to ask for forgiveness or simply to say, “Sorry.” We repent. We do reparations. We reconcile. Fasting and abstinence are gestures of penance.

Third, it also connotes our detachment from things, attitude, events, or people that cannot help us build a better relationship with God.

We have lots of attachments which we need to purify in order to cultivate our faith in God. “Kenotic experience” means our courage to let go of unnecessary baggage that bring us away from God. We empty our life from unnecessary possessions, sinfulness, pride, and hatred so that God will have a place in our hearts. We let go and we let God.

Hence, if we are able to practice by heart these Lenten disciplines in our daily life, then we are capable to read the deceptions of the devil, we can reject the temptations of the devil, and we can defeat the cunnings of the devil. We can let go of our old and sinful self and we let God direct it.

Journey with Jesus this Holy Week. Happy Palm Sunday.

Reach me at Marcsongs123@gmail.com or at 0905-165-3669.

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