As a post-Vatican-II Catholic convert who joined the Church about 15 years ago, I have no memory of a time when, as a Catholic, I was expected to abstain from meat on Friday. And I admit that it seems no sacrifice for me to have a meal of coconut shrimp or blackened redfish or broiled scallops. Truth be told, those meals are pricier and considerably more extravagant in my eyes than meat loaf.
But I'm also aware that there is a move among some of the bishops to impose the rule of Friday abstinence from meat once again. My husband even proposed that for us (although I didn't see much sense in the practice, in that seafood is more of a treat than a sacrifice at our house).
But the other day I read this article about the renaissance in the practice of abstaining from meat. The article came from the Catholic Education Center, and I was struck by this quote:
The trend of abolishing distinctive marks of Catholic identity now seems dated. In 1967, when getting rid of compulsory Friday abstinence, the English bishops wrote: "While an alternative dish is often available, it is questioned whether it is advisable in our mixed society for a Catholic to appear singular in this matter. Non-Catholics know and accept that we do not eat meat on Fridays, but often they do not understand why we do not, and in consequence regard us as odd."As I considered these words, I began to ask myself: what is it that distinguishes my church from others? What makes Christianity different from other faiths? How do we set ourselves apart, or do we work so hard at assimilating that there's nothing unique about us at all? And shouldn't there be?
By "odd" the bishops of the day meant "different," and by different, they meant not Protestant. In a desire to fit in, to seem less, well, Catholic, the English bishops made themselves, in fact, less Catholic.
For me, the value of abstaining from meat on Friday is still undecided. And you may not be Catholic, so it may not be an issue for you at all. But if we profess to be Christian, something about our lives should "tell us apart" from those who are not. As it says in 1 Thessalonians:
But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.