Friday, March 20, 2009

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 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.


  1. Anonymous7:31 PM

    Please do not fool yourself. You are not a dutiful little Catholic at all. Not eating meat on Friday's does not make you a good Catholic. Voting for pro-life presidential candidates helps though. So go ahead and eat your pepperoni and meatballs. Why pretend? If the entire Roman Catholic population of the U.S. voted the way they should have voted, Mr. Obama would not have won. What a disgrace. Thank you. P.S.,, Did you know that the Obama administration is allowing your tax dollars to be used for embryotic stem cell research? Refer to No. 3 on your list and see what your mother has to say about that.

  2. Anonymous8:03 PM

    Very enlightening discourse! I read it all. I always thought the Pope just wanted to help the fishermen. Does anyone know when the rule started? Here's a little excerpt from Rev. 22:18, " If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book". Sounds like making up new sins might be classed as a venial sin, doesn't it? P. S. Amen to your Mama's politics

  3. Anonymous9:11 PM

    A message to Anonymous No. 2;
    Way to go! I am glad someone else uses sarcasm and satire to prove points. Be careful how you do it though. You stand the chance of being deleted if your opinion doesn't match that of the blog's administrator. Hat tip to you!

  4. Anon #1: You can ask my mother directly what she has to say about that. I think you'll find, though, that she -- like me -- looks at our faith as a whole, not as a single issue. (You can refer to my responses at this post -- -- for more details.)

    Anon #2: Very clever of you! Certainly food for thought. ;) And no, I'm not sure exactly when the rule started. Anybody out there know?

  5. Very informative (fun facts!) and humorous post . . . HOWEVER, it was missing one key component. Any lengthy discussion of meat and/or meat cravings needs to include bacon.

    A delicacy that no god would want anyone to be without. ;o)

  6. Anonymous12:36 PM

    To Anon #1:

    This is Marie, Julia's mother. I am disappointed (and somewhat annoyed) that your comments continually veer every post away from topic and bring it back to politics or an argument. If you want to know what I think, I believe every Catholic has a responsibility to vote according to their conscience and to choose the candidate who best embodies the values and principles that most reflect what is good for all citizens—not just embryos. I would love nothing more than for abortion to disappear from our society. But I would also love to see children with spinal diseases or loved ones with Alzheimer’s live a healthier life because stem cell research moved ahead and was part of a cure. I will not pick and choose the lives I wish to protect.

    The point of this blog is to think about personal sacrifice and have awareness of Christ’s sacrifice for us, especially during Lent. Why do we do what we do? If we just do things because we’re told to do them and don’t explore these questions, we are not good Catholics. And the blog is done with a little humor which never hurts anyone.

    And for the record…it is embryonic stem cell research…not embryotic.

  7. Anonymous8:39 PM

    To Marie, Julia's mother;
    1. I am deeply sorry to have spelling errors in my comments. Sometimes I get so emotionally wrapped up in my writing, I tend to go to fast and not spell check.
    2. You state that you should vote according to what is best for all citizens, not just embryos. You will not pick and choose the lives you wish to protect. You would rather a spinal disease or Alzheimer's sufferer live a better life because stem cell research moved ahead and was part of the cure. Let me ask you, if you had breast cancer, and a cure for your particular breast cancer was discovered as a direct result of embryonic research, would you, Marie Rocchi, be okay with that? I would love to know your answer.
    3. In regards to your annoyance with my "topic veering" and "political arguments", I am doing this for one reason only. I am dismayed that with the way the Italian family was raised to think and believe, that Julia holds some of the opinions and values that she does. If you are not happy being Catholic and feel the need to "explore" and "question", (or ignore completely), some of the most important aspects of our Roman Catholic faith, then perhaps you should leave the faith and join a more liberal congregation that delights in socialism and murdering babies.
    4. Finally, I am truly, truly upset at your answer as a whole. I can understand Pat's liberal view on issues and also Julia's as she has become an image of her father, but I always thought you were different. I thought growing up in the house and family that you did, attending Roman Catholic school, and having a priest for a brother, that your views and beliefs would be more along "party lines" so to speak. As I sit writing this I am physically shaking my head because I am upset and don't know what to think now. Until next time.

  8. Dear Anon. -- The last thing I want is for anyone to be upset or misunderstood, so I invite you to take this conversation offline and give me a call. (Since you know such intimate details about my family, I'm assuming you have my phone number or email.)

    I don't think continuing this discussion over blog comments will bear any fruit -- especially on a post that bears no resemblance to what we've ended up debating. Please, let's talk about this in another, more appropriate forum. Thank you.

  9. Anonymous11:27 AM

    I seriously think I need to take some time off from your blog. It only gets me upset. Maybe I will read again, I am not sure. I am sure you are hoping I do not, but for now I seriously say, good bye. Sorry for the trouble. "Anon" the troublemaker

  10. haha wow - there are some heated debates going on here! I love it. I love politics and everything Italian and I'm Catholic - so hey - this blog seems to fit me pretty well:) Thanks for the no meat on Friday's post..I have to say, I'm one of the goodie two shoes that does it EVERY Friday...but it's the least I can do for Him, if you know what I mean....