One day in March, 2016 during Lent at dinner time, Minneapolis, MN
I was emailing back and forth with an old classmate about great restaurants in Minneapolis. It was a Friday during Lent (a Catholic season of repentance & fasting.) I shared that I was having the most wonderful meat dish. He reminded me to get a to-go box. “Remember Wally, it’s GOOD FRIDAY!!” I am Catholic (well, at heart anyway…not so much in practice anymore) and Catholics don’t eat meat on Friday during Lent.
That friendly reprimand bothered me – not because it was directed at me – but, because it centered around the sacrificing of meat on Fridays during the season of Lent. In the early days of the Christian faith the forty days and nights were used to prepare new converts for baptism. Today, Lent is meant as a time of self examination and reflection. Many choose to give up something or to volunteer to help others. And, when my classmate suggested I get a to-go box (which I did not), I imagined asking him, “Giving up meat is the best you can do to honor the Almighty during this season? How about taking in a refugee family from Syria? That would be a real sacrifice. Is God (or the Universe or whatever you call the Entity) REALLY impressed that you give up meat for a dozen or so Fridays?”
There are a gazillion other activities (or non activities) one could substitute for meatless Fridays during Lent. For example, how about giving up one’s cell phone on Fridays? Or, giving up saying the ‘N’ word?
When I was in my twenties I did an internship at a Catholic parish in my hometown. I would intentionally eat meat on Fridays in front of one of the associate pastors. There was something about this associate pastor and about the tradition of not eating meat on Fridays that bothered me. It seemed sooooo hypocritical. The very large gray-haired Alabama-speakin’ associate pastor narc’d on me, and, I was gently reprimanded by my boss Fr. John. I liked and respected Fr. John. He also had a sense of humor and he genuinely cared about the people in his parish. During my gentle reprimand I thought about bartering with him. “If Fr.(name withheld) gives up saying the ‘N’ word I’ll give up eating meat on Fridays.” But, I was the new ‘temporary intern’ and I didn’t want to start a turf war that I would surely lose.
This past Lent it was made clear to me that I needed to give up judging people’s circumstances…permanently…not just during Lent. My classmate raised two children with his wife and packed them off to great colleges – I’m sure his life and his wife’s were filled with sacrifice. My little sister is raising two special needs children. ALL of her days are sacrificed. And, while I appreciate the current sacrifices that people make, I wish that our orientation of ‘giving up’ was more universal and occurred more frequently.
When I am having a low day (financial and/or emotional) and missing those close to me or worried about passing my massage exam or regretting certain life decisions, etc, etc… I will think about the place I am staying and offer thanks that I have a/c and heat and that I don’t have to hear gunfire or airplanes bombing my city in the distance as I drift off to sleep.
As I edit this post, I’m in a hotel room that is classified as an ‘executive suite’ in downtown Chicago; thanks to this hotel’s loyalty program I receive free room upgrades and this upgrade is the ‘max’. It’s bigger than my apartment in Texas. The bathroom is bigger than my kitchen. I am fortunate to travel but I look forward to the days when I am home more frequently and in a routine that wakes me up to see the ones I love.