I’m just gonna be up front and say it like it is: I don’t love that Catholic bishops across the country are telling people it’s okay to eat meat this Friday.
My family isn’t Irish (or like, overtly Irish, at least), but we still have corned beef every year on St. Patrick’s Day because corned beef is awesome and my mom is a good cook.
Actually, aside from St. Patrick’s Day and a handful of other times throughout the year, my family really doesn’t eat much meat. In fact, my mom and I were just talking the other day about how forgoing meat on Fridays isn’t a particularly difficult thing for us.
I get that not all families are this way, though. I get that, for some families, eating corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day might not just be a fun excuse to overindulge on salt the way that it is for my family. I get that it might be a tradition that runs slightly deeper than that, and that’s fine.
But if that’s the case—if you can’t fathom your St. Patrick’s Day without a slab of beef involved—all the more reason not to have it this year.
‘Lenten sacrifice’ is called sacrifice for a reason—it’s meant to prepare us for the Lord’s coming, both in body and in soul.
And sacrifices are especially valuable to us as Christians—they allow us the opportunity to share in the sufferings the Lord experienced on the cross, by experiencing them in our own daily lives. When we suffer, even in the small ways (waiting in line at the DMV, stubbing our toe on a kitchen chair), we’re presented with an opportunity: the chance to unite with Christ, even if only for that brief moment, in that tiny way.
Fasting, in practice, is not just a silly tradition we abide by because it’s how we’ve done it for thousands of years. While yes, it is true that abstaining from meat on Fridays was much more trying during the time of the early Christians than it is for us now (we can just roll over to our local seafood joint and order up a pricey Lobster plate instead), fasting from a more general perspective bears spiritual fruits that are the same now as they were then—that is, if your heart is in it.
The Church gives general guidelines for abstaining from meat during Lent, and there are excuses built into those guidelines—like if you’re ill or elderly, you’re not expected to abide by the fasting requirement.
So, in considering that: will you die if you don’t have corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day? Probably not.
Might it be hard and sort of suck and require slightly more effort on your part not to have it? Absolutely. But that’s exactly how a real sacrifice should feel—that’s pretty much the whole point.
There’s something great to be said for having the self-restraint to abstain from food—and that’s just in general. I’m not suggesting anyone starve themselves—obviously we need food to survive and to pretend otherwise would simply be untrue. But self control is undeniably a good and virtuous thing.
And we’re taught that saying ‘no’ to those smaller things, like certain foods, teaches us how to say ‘no’ to those larger things, like mortal sin. Jason Evert often suggests that couples who struggle with chastity should fast—fasting purifies the heart.
The saints are a primary example of this. Some of our Church’s greatest saints made a regular practice of fasting—and not just during Lent, but at all times of the year. In this context, we should recognize fasting for what it is: an incredible gift, a tool given to us by God so as to grow closer to Him, and become more like Him.
You know how Jesus spent 40 days in the desert prior to His crucifixion? And how he fasted during that time? And you know how the devil followed him around, mocking him, giving Him excuses to break His fast because He wanted to see Him fall?
What if this whole corned beef thing is kind of like that…? A temptation to choose against abstaining from meat, when we could instead say no, offer it up, and grow closer to Christ in the process.
For the record, I’m all for eating meat at any other time. God gave us dominion over animals and I recognize that, and we should totally hunt them and eat them—that’s what they’re there for (among a slew of other reasons).
But God also gave us dominion over our own bodies. He gave us free will so that we could make our own choices because He knew that our love would be much less valuable if we did not choose to give it freely. And this is important, because in giving us free will, and in giving us the ability to rule over our own bodies, He also gave us a responsibility—to make those choices wisely.
I don’t know about you all, but I want to be a saint one day. It’s like, my number one top priority for my life. And I’m not saying that to brag—I’m saying it because I’ve got a LONG WAY to go if I’m going to get there, and I need all the help I can get.
So that’s why I’m fasting from corned beef this Friday. Salty meat won’t do much to better my soul, but abstaining from it on a Friday in Lent actually might.