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.