When I was young, I used to argue with my mother that making me eat pizza or shrimp or fried flounder on a Friday during Lent wasn't exactly a sacrifice. I hated meat, so it was really a bonus to be guaranteed meat-free Fridays for a few weeks a year. All these years later, not much has changed. I'm a vegetarian, so if I want to live by the letter of the law, I don't have to do a thing differently during Lent. But that's not what this is all about, is it? So in our house, we don't eat seafood either on Fridays during Lent (to accommodate the non-meat eaters who still need to sacrifice) and I eat vegan on Fridays, meaning no dairy, eggs, butter or any products that come from animals (as it used to be back in the old days and still is in the Orthodox church).
I learned of a canon lawyer recently who explained that the law really says you can't eat "flesh," so it would be okay to eat chicken soup if you picked out the pieces of chicken or to eat beef gravy on your mashed potatoes as long as you didn't actually sink your teeth into a piece of meat.
This is exactly what gives Lenten abstinence and fasting a bad name. When we get caught up in the letter of the law, in the loopholes that might allow us to slip something by the Lord, we miss the point of what this season is all about.
And that's why you have to read this column by Christopher Orlet on The Amercian Spectator. Orlet, who was raised on Friday fish sticks throughout Lent, takes issue with the fact that too many Catholics today use the no-meat rule to feast on lobster or oysters or gourmet pasta laden with salmon and accompanied by shrimp salad.
From Orlet's column:
"Even now there is no escape. Every Friday evening I somehow end up at the all-you-can-eat fish fry at our parish. Here in the Midwest, fish fries are both a traditional family outing and a cheap date night. Parishioners and non-parishioners alike indulge in greasy platters of deep-fried cod cut-ups, French fries, and gallons of draught Budweiser. (I fail to see how any of this counts as a Lenten sacrifice.) Still, I dutifully attend, if only for the camaraderie and because my girlfriend is the dessert lady. (How ironic that I, the least devout of all, should be the one making the greatest sacrifice.)
"I got a reprieve last Friday when I was invited to dinner at my brother's house. My brother is something of a gourmet (doubtless a reaction to all those fishsticks); he prepared a lovely salmon pasta with San Francisco vinaigrette, a shrimp salad and copious amounts of cabernet sauvignon, and strawberry cheesecake dessert. Here was a meal fit for king. Again, I ask: where's the sacrifice?
"I know good Christian people who spend meatless Fridays at a local Cajun restaurant gorging on Acadian crawfish etouffee, lobster pie, and Oysters Rockefeller, all washed down with an expensive Beaujolais Nouveau. They may not be violating the letter of the law, but its spirit is being violated. As my younger brother -- who also dislikes seafood -- says, the Friday meal should be limited to stale bread and tap water, or just forget the whole thing. At the very least, everyone should have to eat fish sticks."
It's serious food for thought as we journey through Lent, scanning the grocery store for sales on shrimp or scallops or heading out to one of those fried fish fry feasts that can be found in firehouses and parish halls and local pubs. It's not about getting around the rules. It's about making a sacrifice that actually feels like a sacrifice.
Read Orlet's full column HERE, and then tell us in the comment section how you handle Friday meals during Lent.