I have mentioned it before, but when I was young my family never ate meat on any of the Fridays throughout the year (even after the requirements were loosened), and not just during the Fridays of Lent. We were instructed that this practice should be undertaken as an act of penance to commemorate the day of the week on which Jesus died. We had simple meals like fried flounder, grilled cheese, potato pancakes, tomato soup, pierogi and sometimes pizza.
Naturally, as a young, curious person I wanted to know why no meat? That’s where I had to investigate and find an answer that seemed to make sense to me. I heard that meat was associated with feasting, not fasting. We heard it stated in the bible that we should go and kill “the fattened calf” when it was time to celebrate (cf. Luke 15: 23, 30). Okay. That made sense. But how was fish supposedly different?
Many of the answers that I found became rather legalistic in the sense that there was some hair splitting about what could and could not be eaten. It began to seem like old time Pharisaical Judaism to me. According to some interpretations, we could technically eat things like lobster, shrimp and crab, but we needed to stay away from hot dogs, bologna, chicken nuggets and even Spam! (To be honest, I’m really not quite sure how much real meat is in these products anyway!)
That’s where I think that Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees and their legalism seemed to make a lot of sense. He would tell them that they insisted on keeping the letter of the law rather than living the spirit of the law in many instances. (cf. Matthew 12 or 15). Unfortunately, they never really got it!
What then is an appropriate practice for Fridays of Lent? Why not try vegetable soup, salad and bread? A grilled cheese sandwich with some tomato or mushroom soup also appears to keep the spirit of penance. You can always join us for Soup and Stations on Fridays where homemade meatless soups are graciously provided for us before we symbolically walk the Way of the Cross with Christ.
Any practice that we choose for Lent should ultimately help us to grow closer to Christ and to become more Christ-like. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are clearly suggested in Sacred Scripture. These should inspire and urge us towards specific acts like attending additional weekday Masses, praying a daily rosary, giving up things (making a sacrifice) and using the money we save to give to a charity, going to confession, and carrying out the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.
The Lenten season is given to us for spiritual growth, to do penance for sins and offenses against God and our neighbor, and to urge us to pick up our own cross and follow Jesus.
Please use the time well!
Fr. Ed Namiotka