My children and I recently had an extended stay with some family who happen to practice the art of abstaining from meat on Fridays. This was something that wasn’t unfamiliar to me, but it was a tradition that I had come to be more familiarly linked to those times during the Liturgical Seasons of Lent and Advent. Throughout my meal planning, I like to fit in as many meatless meals as I can to help us keep our grocery bill frugal. We often eat beans, lentils, rice dishes and various other alternatives to meat all the while adding in as much fresh produce as we can. While we stayed with family I felt a renewed sense of wanting to incorporate this tradition more into our weekly menu planning. I’m getting deep with my lentil recipe: hold on to your hats!
Some quick reading up on the subject of fasting led me to the following in the Code of Canon Law:
…the 1983 Code of Canon Law specifies the obligations of Latin Rite Catholics [Eastern Rite Catholics have their own penitential practices as specified by the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches].
Canon 1250 All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and times throughout the entire Church.
Canon 1251 Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless (nisi) they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
This led me to a couple of questions. Why haven’t we always done this? And, why don’t we start now? The first, ultimately didn’t matter. The second question had me asking, “Well, why not start now?” I wasn’t aware until I spent time with my family, that all Fridays throughout the year were to be considered Penitential days. What a lovely thing. What a small sacrifice to remember Our Lord everyday Friday through this practical act of giving up eating meat. How beautiful of Mother Church to help us with this reminder of Our Lord’s Passion. Though we observe that event during Lent, is it not every Friday and even everyday that we should keep it at the forefront of our minds and hearts the sacrifice that He made for us.
And so it’s been decided. This is something that we can incorporate into our domestic church. It’s an enjoyable challenge for me to creatively fast, as well. Scripture tells us in Matthew 6:16-18
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you”.
Let’s put on a joyful attitude and proceed! Fasting from meat doesn’t have to be any more difficult than changing up a few ingredients. No gloomy faces here! Let’s make it yummy, beautiful and be creative with what God has provided for us– beautiful and bountiful abundance of vegetarian choices that can be just as tasty and exotic as any recipe that could incorporate meat.
Fasting with children can be hard, especially if we as adults bring with us this attitude of gloom. If we proceed with an attitude of joy (which, trust me, I know can be hard at times as with anything) the children will see first hand how important it is to do hard things with joy. It starts with the small things. Fasting can be an easy open door for us to incorporate more of the Church life into our domestic life. Our faith is not just for special times during the year, or on Sunday. It is something that we can, and should, be living everyday. As my kids get older, and I learn more about the faith myself, I can incorporate things like fasting on Fridays into our routine with a spirit of joy to help them realize the connection between our faith and everyday life. We’re approaching the teen years with my older kids and I often get the comments like, “But why do we have to do that?” When this attitude of questioning first started to come up, I would answer directly as to the why. Over time the thought crossed my mind that I could help change their perspective from why to “look at what we get to do/how we get to witness and participate”. In that way, our actions become less about the concept of, say, fasting and more about an act of love.