Is your fish penitential enough?
I’m not sure to what extent my friends are joking and to what extent they are serious, but that’s what they’re talking about. Such-and-such lenten-compliant food is far too good be considered a penance. You must eat this-and-so instead!
No, no, no, and no.
If your idea of being a good Catholic is to find a way to thwart the spirit of the law by wallowing in luxury, you have problems. Your problems will not be fixed by a greasy fish sandwich.
What the Church asks is that we abstain from meat on Fridays, done. That’s the law. What she also asks is that we take on a spirit of penitence throughout the season of Lent, with particular attention to Fridays and perhaps some relaxation on Sundays, depending. That’s the pastoral guidance.
If you find abstaining from meat to be easy, congratulations. The way is wide open for you to take on other more rigorous disciplines.
If you find abstaining from meat to be difficult, give it your best. It’s not fair, perhaps, that this particular discipline is so much more difficult for you than it is for other people, but then again the crosses of this life never are distributed exactly the same to each one. If you are overwhelmed by the rigors of Lenten abstinence, speak to your pastor. Seek advice particularly if you have some medical reason you probably should not abstain, but you aren’t quite sure. The Church isn’t seeking to sink you.
So what about lobster and sushi?
Let’s back up and ask ourselves: Is it acceptable to eat such luxuries on other days of the year?
The answer, I maintain, is that it depends. Now if you observe a life of solidarity with the poor to such an extent that you would never eat such a thing, then you surpass me exceedingly and I don’t really know why you are reading this blog. Please carry on with your devotion and do not let me dissuade you.
If, at the other extreme, you are a thoroughly wretched creature, devoted to nothing but your own pleasure from moment to moment, and that is what motivates your eating of lobster and sushi and gold-crusted cheeses carried on the backs of famished peasants who crawl through tunnels and tiptoe around lava pits to bring you the rarest and most precious of delicacies . . . how about you have a fish sandwich just to see what it’s like?
Said more seriously: Don’t delude yourself into thinking that observing the letter of the law is a Get Out of Hell Free pass. (There is such a thing, but it doesn’t involve eating lobster. Or fish sandwiches.)
Those of us who live in the middle have to exercise the virtue of prudence concerning our own plates, and the virtue of Minding Your Own Business concerning the plates of others. While we ought not excuse ourselves too lightly from the rigors of penance, there are any number of reasons that on some Friday in Lent the eating of a relatively luxurious item might in fact be entirely consistent with a sound spiritual life.
–> To evaluate, take into account both the particular circumstances of the meal at hand and the context of your Lenten observances overall.
- Do you have other better choices?
- Is this a special occasion?
- Do you even get to choose the menu, or are you at someone else’s mercy?
- Are you making a suitable effort to be penitential this Lent?
- Or are you just cruising along all week with no regard for the spirit of the season?
- Is this item in fact a gratuitous luxury compared to your other options, or does it just have that reputation as a byword?
But in all cases, you are only evaluating your personal spiritual life. I hope you do that all year.
Scott Reeves has an excellent post on what penance is, and why and how it helps us.
And from me . . .
Lenten Tactics: Thwarting the Meat Demon
More Strategizing for Meatless Fridays
About the Required Penances – Some thoughts on the differences between the Catholic and Orthodox approaches to Lent, and the value of each.
Artwork: The patron saints of careful distinctions. Via Wikimedia [Public Domain].