The US Bishops have launched a multi-faceted initiative aimed at strengthening Catholic identity in the Country.
One can only look at such initiatives with favour, also because none of them appear to be of the unCatholic/populistic/controversial sort (like for example encouraging illegal immigration). Still, one cannot avoiding noticing that even when it would be easy to demand a certain behaviour (= meatless Friday) the US Bishops stop short of doing it and prefer to remain by the “encouragement”.
Meatless Friday is a traditional Catholic penance; it is nothing earth-shattering, or extravagant; it has been already reintroduced in other Countries, like the United Kingdom.
Past generations well knew that these little but constant reminders not only of Christ's sacrifice for us, but of our Catholic identity and culture do help, in time, to properly shape a man. Past generations, who did not have fridges or freezers, were asked to conform themselves to such small rules. It is not clear to me why it should be too much to ask that modern US-Americans do the same rather than merely encourage them to do so.
If the clergy of one country thinks even such small obligations are too much to ask, how can they I do not say demand, but even make their faithfuls aware of grave problems like politicians aiding and abetting abortion, sodomy, one day euthanasia? If one refuses to obey in the small things, how will he obey in the bigger ones?
I hope the US bishops will soon see the logic of this reasoning, and start the long work of reshaping Catholic identity by demanding that their faithful live by rules – starting from the small ones – that have served past generations so well.
Bring back the meatless Friday. Remind people every week of what they are, and what they stand for.
It has become fashionable in the last decades to question the many small ways of the Catholics. People wonder whether it makes sense not to eat meat on a Friday, or to make the sign of the Cross when seeing a church or a crucifix, or to say an Hail Mary whenever we see a crippled man, or an invalid.
But the fact is, you build a solid edifice out of many small bricks. The single brick in itself might not be so terribly meaningful in your life, but it is an effective way to remind yourself who you are, who you want to be, where do you want your life to go.
Let us take Friday abstinence, and divorce. When the obligation of Friday abstinence was generally observed, I am sure there weren’t many Catholics – even in Protestant countries, which allowed such things – who divorced and remarried. There weren’t, because Catholics were constantly reminded of their duties as Catholics in the smaller things, and this obligation was even enforced. This created both an internal brake and a huge external pressure not to contravene to the duties of a Catholic in the big societal questions, like divorce. Also for this reason, I think, the wilful and deliberate refusal to observe Friday abstinence was rightly considered a mortal sin: then when one deliberately refuses to comply with his obligations, and be that in something he considers of small relevance, a revolt in already in place and divorce and concubinage cannot be very far away.
Our wise ancestors knew this, and a sound tradition of respect in small things (there were many, then; for example, even I remember the time when the children were supposed to say “good morning” to their elders without waiting for them to do so) took care that people grew up with a rather straight spine in the bigger one.
Obviously this is no guarantee, and I could tell you of the southern Italian woman living in London always making such a fuss that she renounced sweets during Lent, and who subsequently went to live more uxorio with the first man she could put her hands on. But on the whole, I think it’s fair to say being scrupulous in small things will greatly help one to avoid trouble in bigger ones, and when the societal pressure is added – which was, alas, not the case for the London woman – things will be even easier.
For this reason, I can only recommend Friday abstinence – as usual Friday penance, or in addition to it – even for those living in countries where the obligation has not been reintroduced. I have the persistent suspicion that the day we die what will have – hopefully – saved us will have been not our attempts at heroic efforts, but the way we have trained ourselves to live in the right way by many little habits.
A Hail Mary for the poor chap when you see a crippled man doesn’t take much time, and some basic fridge planning for the Friday will soon be mastered. A sign of the cross reminds you of where you want to be heading when the time comes, and the habit of at least an “eternal rest” a day will count for more than something on that day. But most of all, if you do that the constant reminder of the Catholic Faith of which you are part will make it much easier to stay within the straight and narrow when temptation comes, and your friends give you ill advice.
For all of us living in the UK< today is a rather historical day, as for the first time in ages the obligation to make penance on Friday by abstaining from meat is reintroduced.
The importance of this goes, if you ask me, beyond the mere fact, and extends to the clear signal (eve here in the UK) to recover traditional Catholic practice. The recovery of the practice will, in time, give a great contribution to the recovery of the values.
We have seen it happening the other way round decades ago, when the immense patrimony of Catholic devotions and usages was suddenly discarded as old, not in keeping with the time and, in a world, unpleasant for a Church desperately – and disgracefully – seeking for popularity.
Today, here in the UK – and, no doubt, in many other Countries in the years to come – a public, if not explicit, admission of the mistake of following the trend of the times takes place.
Every Catholic should rejoice at the possibility he is given to feel more catholic in his daily life, and to be able to make use of small but constant reminders of the religious dimension his life is called – wretched sinners as we all are – to have.
I’ll have a Potato and Leak soup accompanied by a small salad with some feta cheese, and a mozzarella with some little bread. Meatless Friday doesn’t mean joyless eating, it means that once a week you remember He Who died for you, and give him a little tribute of gratitude. In these little things lies, if you ask me, one of the great strengths of Catholicism; the Hail Mary, the Rosary, the sign of the cross when walking past a church, the small prayer when walking past someone with a disability, and many other little gestures keep us anchored in our real dimension in the middle of the hustle and bustle of our daily life.
Say hello to your soup; the meat will be able to wait until tomorrow and, for sure, no one will die of meat abstinence in the meantime.
Father Z has a post over a sort of debate published in the Catholic Herald and originated by the fact that (even!) the Bishops of E and W are now thinking about reinstating the practice.
I have written about the penance some time ago and will not repeat the argument. What I would like to stress here are the elements emerging from the discussion:
1) It is a very good sign that the Bishops of E and W (people who have a problem even with traditional days of obligation) are now thinking of reinstating Catholic traditions.
2) Personally I think that what they should do first is to a) reinstate the days of obligations and b) start to severely stress the Sunday Mass obligation.
3) I say this because if our hierarchy is not even able to request observance of Catholic rules when it is most important (Mass attendance), the request to reinstate traditional practices might – even if commendable in itself – sound hollow or, worse, fake. Particularly if it is accompanied by the usual self-flagellation meant to make one oh so accepted by the anti-Catholic public, as in “make penance on Friday to save the world from globaluormin“, or the like.
I am also against the argument that such a penance would be a small thing, or that in modern times it would have lost part of his meaning.
Catholicism is made, to a not little extent, of small things. They are what, brick by brick, builds the edifice of our salvation. To cross oneself when passing a church is a small thing, but it has been known to save souls. To say an Hail Mary or three is not a big sacrifice, but it causes joy in Heaven. A small act of contrition in the middle of the cares of our day is not a big thing in itself, but it is part of a habit and, as every Catholic should know, habits are very important in the economy of salvation.
As to the welfare argument, it might be argued that abstinence from meat on a Friday is more relevant today (when many people eat meat every day, so that to abstain from meat on a Friday requires a change of habit and the offering of a small sacrifice) than it was in days past (when the fewest people could afford to eat meat every day and therefore Friday abstinence was more a matter of planning than of sacrificing an otherwise affordable meat meal).
In general, it is very positive to see that old traditional Catholic practices are being, one by one, rediscovered. Personally, I think that the Bishops of E and W are not at the head of the movement, but merely following it.
Still, as long as they start to deliver I’ll not be the one to complain.