Meatless Fridays

I was pretty shocked when I learned a few years ago that Vatican II did not do away with the “no meat on Fridays” rule. Somehow, post Vatican II, Catholicism got watered down, and it seemed that the only Fridays we had to avoid meat were the ones during Lent. I guess the American bishops threw in some “equal substitution” clause that made it possible outside of Lent for practicing Catholics to do another penance instead, although the preferred sacrifice was still to go meatless.

My guess is that this allowed us to blend better in normal society. Office party on Friday night? No need to look different by shunning the chicken marsala. Neighborhood barbecue? Go ahead and chow down on those burgers. Of course, that substitution clause quickly fell by the wayside. After all, can’t we all come up with some other “sacrifice” we made during the day if pressed? I cleaned the pantry instead of reading a book…I walked the dog even though it’s my husband’s job…I cleaned up that mess my toddler made without complaining. That counts, right?

I will be the first to admit that I am not perfect in observing meatless Fridays throughout the year. There are times it is inconvenient. Perhaps we are traveling or running errands and need to get a quick bite to eat. Perhaps we are visiting friends and that’s what’s on the menu. Perhaps we have people at our house and a meatless meal would not be popular.

But isn’t that the whole point of abstaining from meat on Fridays? Are we, as Catholics, called to “blend in,” to not draw attention to our faith, to segregate who we are outside of church from who we are while sitting in Mass? I’m not talking about holier-than-thou pointing out to everyone you know that you’re eating a tuna fish sandwich because it’s Friday or ranting that the office cafeteria doesn’t offer any vegetarian selections on Fridays for all those Catholics who work there or demanding that your neighbor who invited you over for the barbecue grill up some shrimp too. Most people would think you are eating tuna or shrimp because you like tuna or shrimp. I like tuna and shrimp, and I’ll eat them on random days of the week just because I enjoy them. I like lots of meatless meals, and really have no trouble observing the no meat rule during Lent. It’s just those few inconvenient times during the rest of the year.

But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15:22

Hooray for me and for you if going meatless is no sacrifice. The point is obedience. And then try to obey the rule come Easter time. See just how difficult it can be.

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