The Other I

May 23, 2011

Fishy penance

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 1:39 pm

When my father bought 70 acres of land in Ohio in 1942 to make into a farm on which to raise his children close to nature, he converted five acres of mud swamp into a lake.  In the winter we skated on it, in the summer we swam and boated on it, and on Fridays we ate fish caught in it.

That may have contributed to my childhood mystification about why it should be a mortal sin to eat meat on Friday.  I did understand it was because Good Friday was the day Jesus died, but it never tasted like much of a penance.  Not eating dessert or not eating at all would have seemed much more appropriate.  And why it should rank along with murder and adultery as a sin so grave as to condemn one to the eternal fires of hell was a mystery that in my docility I simply accepted.

Now I have just read in the London Sunday Times that the Catholic bishops of England and Wales have decreed that Catholics should return to the practice of “fish on Fridays” as an act of penance and to show solidarity with the poor and suffering.  Actually, I didn’t know that eating meat on Friday had ever been demoted from the category of mortal sin, but reinstating it as a penance still strikes me as bizarre.  Especially as an act of solidarity with the poor and suffering.  How many of the one and half billion people in the world living on starvation rations would consider a fish dinner every Friday sheer luxury?

But it gets even stranger.  The bishops suggest that Catholics who are already vegetarians for ecological or health reasons should give up something else.  They suggest giving up carrots.

I’m not kidding.  The bishops suggest giving up eating carrots on Friday as an alternative penance to giving up meat.

Not sugar pops or a weekly gin and tonic.   They don’t suggest five minutes reflective silence or prayer or refraining from using the internet or one’s smart phone.  They don’t even suggest engaging in a deliberate act of kindness as a possibility.

Really, I wonder if we’re living in the same world.

I’m serious about this.  These are religious leaders.  I think in their position they have a serious obligation to be a little more in touch with the way real people live.

Besides, I’ve never given up eating fish on Friday.  Fish and chips is one of my favourite dishes of the week.

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