By Gerard C. Gotladera
There’s a taste and texture in my mouth that I’ve been missing since this fast started: creamy, smooth, soft serve vanilla and chocolate ice cream, sweet and cool the way confectioner’s sugar melts in the mouth. Snickers too and all those bite-size chocolate goodies.
I dreamt of them at the end of week 1 of my Lenten sacrifice, and woke up sweating. I remembered the joy of their taste, but more so feared the next 3-4 weeks that lie ahead of me without them. These are a few of the treats I gave up the morning of Ash Wednesday until the 40th day of Lent.
Before we go deep, let it be known that I am no perfect Catholic. That this article is a personal reflection on fasting and is in no way a memo for readers to subscribe to. But what this is, is a hope for readers to understand and to remind myself too, that we’re all here trying to be better souls.
I grew up in a Catholic household, the kind that strongly believed in pushing back pleasurable Holy Week sojourns ‘til after Easter. Not because of the “bad luck” that clouded over it (when accidents and deaths during Holy Week are common), but because we were taught to put Jesus’ sacrifices first before our joys, most especially during this week.
My Lola was the brightest reference I had of a devout Catholic. She swore off meat for all the Fridays of her life and had always been the kind of woman you could never disturb during any of the times she dedicated to praying. As for myself, while not perfectly, my family’s Catholicism is in my blood and make -- and in my way own way, am trying to live accordingly.
In a conscious effort to “try” and be a better human being, I’ve gone fasting. This year being my fourth official year of serious, mental and physical fasting for the soul.
It’s a program. A conditioning of the mind and body that, starting Ash Wednesday until midnight of Black Saturday, for all those 40 days and nights, I wouldn’t be having the kind of food I usually enjoy: sweets, dairy, pork, beef, rice, pasta and potatoes. Emphasis on sweets (for a sweet-tooth like me) meaning ice cream, flavored coffee, cakes and chocolate, you know the rest.
No sweat, right? Just stay off all those for the duration of Lent and go about life.
And this is the mistake I always make.
Every year, since I committed to it, I go into Ash Wednesday believing it’s going to be okay. That life is not the food I love. But I end up being an emotional, hungry mess. On easy days, I’m cranky. But at my worst, I doubt and question. I grow tempted to eat and let go of the sacrifice I promised myself and my Creator to pursue. I tell myself, I’m still the same person with the same sins and broken pieces that make me up, right? So what’s the use?
I’ve bargained and negotiated with myself more times than I should have during Lent. And I won’t lie to breaking my fast in small doses: a bite of something here and there, even an entire burger with fries on the side, one early, early weekend morning. Small, sure, but specks of black dots on a record that’s supposed to be clean.
Definitely not good.
As I pick myself up from these fallbacks, it’s the going back to the constant battle in my mind that’s painful: to continue or to just give in. Let’s not go as far as saying the devil stands beside me with a table of a full on feast. Nothing like that. Like all matters of my spirit, I’ve always seen myself as the only devil. The only one to beat and exorcise. No sinister figure whispering “it’s okay, just one bite won’t hurt”.
It’s all. Just. me.
This is the takeaway this year. That the biggest hindrance to being and doing good is myself. That what’s stopping me from being better at anything, really, is my own voice saying life’s more pleasurable on the other end of the deal. That a cup of ice cream won’t kill me. That God has far bigger worries than Gerard having a “cheat day” during Lent.
While there is a truth in that, there’s also truth and beauty in coming out of this alive, starving but less in love with the idea of me in pleasure. Of me abusing the choices I’m gifted with. Of me looking for more when most times all I truly need are within reach. And most importantly, that life does not revolve around me.
Heading on to this week, I already confess to still being a lackluster Catholic. You cannot rely on me for spiritual guidance or matters of the faith. No credibility in that. I am no Jesus, whose story is the landmark of the purest, most painful selflessness any man dare to carry in all our lifetimes.
Ultimately, a sacrifice is for someone else’s good. It is a true burden and responsibility of someone willing and not always able, for a greater cause. Whenever I’m asked “what do you do it for?” or “what do you want to get in return?”, I find myself wondering.
As saccharine and preachy as it may sound, I do it for God. It’s just a little time spent in being hungry, tired, mad, doubting, anxious that I, and people like me, dedicate in solidarity for the greatest, irreplaceable sacrifice we’ve all come to know: God’s very own.
People will always have questions and remarks. They won’t always believe in the sincerity of sacrifice when there’s something good that I get out of it return—ten pounds lost and almost not a pimple in sight. Good points, for sure, but to be honest, I would rather have my old self back than being deep into all these hot days, fighting myself for a tiny bite of any or all the delicious food I love. I would much rather enjoy my midnight snacks than stay in bed praying the sound of my own voice away. And finally, I’d declare it’s a diet or a detox if it were the case, but they’re far from those when the end goal is to stand hungry and yet enlightened that everyday of my life is good because of that one sacrifice God made some million years ago.
At the end of this journey, I’ll still be the same person, trying to be a better human being to myself and to others. And this fast, is my way towards that.