Lent 2014 -2: It Smells Fishy In Here

Yesterday I posted an essay on what Lent means to me.  This essay will, ideally, be part of a 40 part series as I endeavor to write each day during Lent.  Not every essay will be profound, not every essay will have a religious slant, and not every essay will even be good; take them as they are.  If you enjoy an essay or find some personal meaning in it, then I have hit my mark and would love to hear from you.  If you don’t enjoy my essay I feel like you should take personal responsibility for your bad taste and know that my email/Facebook/Wordpress cannot accept negative comments; it’s some silly design flaw and I will be sure to correct it with the IT departments as soon as possible.   

I digress. Yesterday I posted an essay on what Lent means to me and, like every Lenten holiday for my entire life as a conscious Catholic (while I am no longer an “active” Catholic, I still cling to a lot of my Catholic beliefs and customs),people feel the need to tell me why my customs are silly or baseless.  Non Catholics and bitter Catholics (and trust me, there are plenty of bitter Catholics) loooooooove to point out how ridiculous they think it is to practice the custom of eating fish on Fridays during Lent.  There will always be one yahoo in the crowd who says something like, “You know, it doesn’t even have anything to do with Jesus, it’s only because the Pope was helping the fishing industry.”  This is usually the same person who will tell us that St. Patrick didn’t really rid Ireland of snakes, or that Sweetest Day is a “Hallmark Holiday”, or that Pluto isn’t really a planet.  We get it!  You are always right and you live to spoil the fun of everyone around you.  And, as far as I’m concerned, Pluto will always be a planet to me! Oh, and you’re wrong, just for the record. 

Yes, eating FISH specifically on Friday was not the directive, but abstaining from meat on Friday was.  Following is a quote from the website Catholic Answers which may help to add some clarification to the issue:

           Finally, we should mention why Friday abstinence was imposed. The Church recognizes that, since meat is a chief part of most meals served in most places, and since meat is usually the most valued or expensive part of a meal, abstinence from meat on Fridays is a good way for Christians to unite themselves more closely to the sufferings of their Lord (Rom. 8:16-17, 1 Pet. 2:21) by denying themselves something they enjoy. Abstinence from meat is a sacrifice which unites them in penance and strengthens the solidarity of the Church through mild suffering. It’s also a good form of mortification, which disciplines the soul and strengthens its resistance to concupiscence. Paul practiced and recommended mortification: “I drive my body and train it, for fear that after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27).

So, if you can’t eat meat, why not eat fish?  Even if there were no real reason for eating fish on the Fridays during Lent, I still think it’s a good custom, and I will eventually get around to telling you why.  But, before I do, let’s explore one more thing.  Every religion or belief system has its own customs and rituals.  Even if you don’t adhere to a “typical” religion or if you have more secular beliefs, you still exercise some form of ritual or custom, although you may not recognize it as such.  You can tell me any custom from any religion, recognized or not, and I can give you reasons as to why it is a silly or pointless custom to practice. That’s if you only tell me what it is, like “eat fish on the Fridays during Lent”.  But, if you can tell me what your custom does, there is a good chance that I will understand why you find it important to engage in that practice. 

So what does the distinction between what something is and what something does have to do with Lent?  Well, that’s a great question and I’m really glad you asked.  To answer, let’s think back to when the microwave first hit the market.  While microwaves existed before the 1960s, they didn’t really start to show up in homes for personal use until the late 60s and onward. When microwaves did start to become a part of mainstream culture, the trick to selling them was to make the very important distinction between is and does. The marketing and advertising departments of the manufacturing companies knew that they would not gain universal residential acceptance if they made commercials that said things like, “This is a box that uses ‘electromagnetic radiation in the microwave spectrum causing polarized molecules in the food to rotate and build up thermal energy in a process known as dielectric heating’ to heat your food for dinner.” Okay, what?  For starters, not only do most people have no real idea what this means, it also sounds slightly terrifying; which is why microwaves weren’t sold using the description of what it is.  Instead, the marketing teams knew that they had to explain to people what a microwave does, which is to heat up food quickly and evenly so that you can spend less time in the kitchen and more time with your FAMILY.  (Unfortunately, the microwave was also sold as a time saver so that women could spend less time in the kitchen and more time doing their other household duties, but it was the 1960s so what else do you expect?)

When I was growing up my home life was rather chaotic, to put it mildly.  My mother, after my father passed, raised four children on her own while working full time, going to school for her Master’s degree, and keeping my brother in travel hockey, my sister in skating, and three of the four of us in music lessons.  At any given point in time someone was late for something, someone was forgotten about and stranded somewhere (usually me at catechism), and one or all of us needed to be fed.  My mom is a great cook and made many of our meals at home, but as we grew older and our lives became even more chaotic, fast food and pizza became more of the norm and “sit down” family dinners became a thing of the past; except during Lent! 

On each Friday during Lent, my family and I would go out for a fish fry.  Usually we would go to The Ground Round where, as a child, you could get on a giant scale and you paid what you weighed for your dinner. I never participated in that activity because, well… screw you and just charge me the damn adult menu price.  Archie’s was our other main location to go to.  We would occasionally venture out to somewhere new, but we always ended up back at The Ground Round or Archie’s.  I looked forward to and cherished each and every Friday in Lent and I wouldn’t trade those days for anything.  We often ran into friends or family members who would join us for a meal or simply chat with us if they were already done, and I remember that seeing them always gave me a feeling of community. 

So what do microwaves and Pluto have to do with why it makes sense to eat fish on the Fridays during Lent? Well, even if you adhere to the story of “Fish Fridays” being put into practice to help the fishing industry, like the microwave, you are still only telling me what the custom is.  For me, what “Fish Friday” does is that it forces us to slow down, shift gears out of our normal routines, and brings us together as a family and community to break bread and share our lives and loves with one another, and I can’t think of a better custom than that.  Pluto?  Well, okay, I guess it really doesn’t have anything to do with Lent, but I still think it is wrong to strip a planet of its title and retribution of some kind should be made. 

Even if you didn’t eat fish today, I hope that you were blessed enough to spend some time with the people you love.  Until tomorrow…


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stephanie
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 06:47:38

    I’m officially a fan!!


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