It really is quite amazing to me that I chose to be a Catholic. I am the first to bristle at any kind of authority telling me what I can and cannot do. Maybe it is that inborn American desire for rebellion. More likely it is my own pride and arrogance. But when it comes to the Church, I submit to her teaching authority. It is through the Church that Jesus instructs and leads his sheep to heaven.
Following the teachings of Christ is not always easy, especially when it is my inclination to defy. Like a small child though, I am called to obey first and seek understanding after. So for the past decade or so, I have dutifully abstained from eating meat on Fridays of Lent. And to answer the obvious question of why, I say because it is a sacrifice. But then come the inevitable litany of rebuttals:
- Am I really making a sacrifice to plan a different meal once a week?
- Do eggs and chicken broth count?
- What if I am pregnant?
- Why is fish okay to eat?
- And so on…
I know, absolutely know, in my heart that the Church’s teachings are true and just and for my spiritual benefit. So I began to ask myself, why are we still obligated in this day to abstain from meat. Certainly for the average American, this is truly not a sacrifice. There must be another purpose beyond the meager inconvenience of not eating a particular food.
Today is Mardi Gras, but all week, I have already begun to think about what I will plan for my family’s meals on Ash Wednesday and the upcoming Fridays. Today, while I was contemplating how to maintain my metabolism while fasting, it finally hit me. Every time I think about meals for these days, I think about sacrifice and I think about Jesus. That is my purpose for fasting and abstaining. It has very little to do with what I actually eat.
Just imagine your day tomorrow or Friday. At least three times a day, and probably more, your body will tell you that it is hungry and you will think about food. But rather than just meeting the physical need, you will remember that today is special and you will need to adjust your habits. Multiple times a day, you will recall the sacrifice of Jesus and make a tiny attempt to join your sacrifice with His. Isn’t it brilliant that the Church chose such a fundamental and universal desire, hunger, to help us orient ourselves to God again and again throughout the day? In my busy life, I often forget that God is here with me, but I won’t forget that I am hungry. The physical desire for food reminds us of our insatiable spiritual desire for Christ. And that is why I do not eat meat on Fridays of Lent.
May you all have a blessed Lenten season as we await the joy of Easter.