Why meat and Catholics don't mix

Every Friday in the spring, I am hit with a deep-seated, gnawing, almost violent desire for pepperoni. Or meatballs. Or Porterhouse steak. Or human flesh. Basically, any available meat product or byproduct (I won't judge).

No, I don't have an iron deficiency that kicks in by week's end. It's more of a sacrificial deficiency. Because I'm told I can't have meat, it's then the only thing I want.

The body denying my body sweet meat, of course, is the Catholic Church, an institution well-known for gleefully testing human beings' ability to resist pigs in a blanket its theology about fasting and abstinence during Lent.

Being a dutiful little Catholic, my Lenten Fridays typically follow this routine:
1. Wake up. Crave scrapple. Resist temptation.

2. Go out to lunch. Explain to friends how ordering salad sanctifies me. Act very mystical and mysterious. Crave hamburger. Resist temptation.

3. Call my mother. Tell her I just ate hamburger. Listen to her freak out. Don't feel guilty about not resisting that particular temptation.

4. Make dinner. Crave salami. Resist temptation.

5. Say prayers before bed. Ask for forgiveness for tormenting mother. Secretly plan to do it again next Friday. Crave chicken nuggets. Resist temptation. (Maybe. Depends on how late it is.)
After 25 years of this routine, you'd think I'd be used to it. Hell, I don't even eat most of these foods on any regular basis. But then Friday rolls around, and instead of offering up my fast as contemplative Christian penance, I thank God I'm not Jewish, because then I'd NEVER be allowed to eat pork. Ever. At all.

But why, really, is foregoing meat a sacrifice, and how did this tradition evolve? I realized I didn't have good answers for the 8 million questions I field each Friday when I'm eating with non-Catholic friends. So I Googled did a little digging to figure out why exactly meat gets kicked to the curb once a week in the Catholic tradition.

FACT: We're all rich and fat on meat now, but it used to be a luxury, a hallmark of celebration. Throw in the fact that Jesus died on a Friday, which puts us in a more penitential mood, and voila! we honor the day by abstaining from meat. It's about giving up something special; so as my campus minister Eileen used to say, "If your only food choices on Friday are filet mignon and baloney, go with baloney, because it is the lesser meat."

FACT: Fridays are also a day of fasting. I say "also" because fasting and abstinence are not synonymous. As About.com puts it, "In general, fasting refers to restrictions on the quantity of the food we eat and on when we consume it, while abstinence refers to the avoidance of particular foods." (BONUS FACT: All the goody two shoes extra-pious fast every Friday throughout the year. Hence all the fish specials in restaurants on Fridays.)

FACT: You better have a damn good reason not to follow this rule. Being pregnant or crazy are both acceptable excuses.

FACT: Simplicity is key. So cooking an incredible edible fish dish is not in keeping with the spirit of Lent. (Sorry Mom.) Instead, we're asked to use that energy to "clarify our thinking and our feeling." Which is terrific, unless you're thinking about hot dogs.

FACT: Speaking of hot dogs ... read this article's tagline. Hi-larious.

In conclusion, I have learned that answering "Because God will smite me" is not only melodramatic, but incorrect. My apologies to all friends who received this info from me previously. Please refer here for sounder theological responses. And here for meat.