Weekend Ponderings: “I ate the ham. Do I need to confess it?”

It was careless, I know. The Jimmy Johns sandwiches beckoned, and I grabbed one without thinking. The last bite was just disappearing down my throat when someone observed that there were a lot of vegetarian sandwiches left over … And then it hit me.

“Oh, RATS!” Eating meat. On a Lenten Friday. In public, yet.

One mom cocked an eyebrow at me. “Oh, do you think God will FORGIVE YOU?! I’m so glad that I’m a Christian and don’t have to worry about things like that!”

Great. Now I have TWO sins to mention at confession on Saturday. Eating ham and throttling a dear “sister in Christ.”

While (as this article by Jimmy Aikin indicates) deliberately choosing to eat meat on a day of abstainence is grave matter (that is, it satisfies one of three conditions of mortal sin), it must be done freely and deliberately to qualify as a mortal sin. I had not done it deliberately — if I had remembered it was Friday, I would have happily chosen the vegetarian option. Even so, hearing Father Chas’ teaching last night made me realize that it might be good for me not to let myself off the hook too quickly.

Last night Father Chas put the whole “why eat fish on Fridays” in a useful context of family obligation. He pointed out that in the “feasts, fasts, and pilgrimages” of the Church, there are mandatory and optional observances. Just as in the human family there are certain things we do simply because we belong (attendance at Sunday dinner, family fun night, birthday celebrations, etc.), so there are certain things — certain disciplines, and obligations, we take up within a spiritual community simply because we belong to the family, and respect the spiritual authority of those who have placed these obligations upon us. 

In a word, we do it “because Father says so.” (“Father” being the teaching office of the Church, the Magisterium, passed down to us from bishop to individual parishioners through the normal channels of authority.)

Confess a couple mouthsful of ham? Why?  Certainly not because ham is intrinsically evil, but because it may help me to be more mindful of slowing down and being more deliberate about my Lenten journey.

Lent is, at its heart, a time of penitence and preparation for the greatest of all feast on the Church calendar. The desert calm of the season encourages us to detach from non-essentials — even those that, in and of themselves, are not bad for us. In her classic spiritual work, The Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila spoke of the need to pass from the outer courtyards of sin and temptation, through to the inner chambers where attachments to even good things — including personal relationships — can distract us from putting our full attention on “His Majesty.”

And so, the disciplines of Lent provide an opportunity to make little choices, small offerings of obedience to our heavenly Father. Like my daughter’s scribbled love notes, they are valuable not because of their intrinsic worth … but because fulfilling these “family obligations” are precious reminders of the love between us.

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3 thoughts on “Weekend Ponderings: “I ate the ham. Do I need to confess it?”

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  1. I don’t think one has to confess forgetfulness or the consequences thereof. Your embarrassment was punishment enough for your forgetfulness, imo.

    It always helps me to remember that once Francis of Assisi was served meat on Friday and he ate it. His brothers were horrified, but he pointed out that charity and humble acceptance of what is served is a higher good than following the rule.

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  2. Beautiful article! I agree with you, Heidi, that it is good to confess such things which technically are NOT mortal sins because one did not do it deliberately. But it helps to keep the conscience alert to confess venial sins and faults as long as scrupulosity is not involved. Things like that happen to a lot of people at the beginning of Lent but confessing can help keep it from happening again.

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  3. I have often started out Lent with good intentions of fasting and abstaining from meat on Fridays, only to be thwarted by this same mindless error. What I am taking from your post is this line:

    “…it may help me to be more mindful of slowing down and being more deliberate about my Lenten journey….”

    That’s exactly what it’s all about. And in previous years if I’ve accidentally failed, then I often feel like I can eat meat now because I’ve already stumbled so no big deal. Instead, I’m treating this year like Weight Watchers – you don’t through out the whole plan because you had a misstep. You focus and renew your efforts.

    Of course, I was startled to read what a fellow Christian said to you …. but had to laugh that you now have TWO things to confess. I think I’d be in the same boat. 🙂

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