I’ve only been to Bella Casa, a pizza place on the corner of 16th and Farnam, a handful of times, but already I’m recognized by the owner as the girl who gets cheese pizza on Friday.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to have the once-a-week-vegetarian talk with people I know. If I go out to eat in a group, I spend the most time looking over the menu, trying to find something meatless (and I don’t do fish), that will also satisfy my need for protein. I’ve become accustomed to asking waiters what they recommend for vegetarians and with that becoming an increasingly popular trend for health or ethical reasons, they’re more than happy to help.
It’s really not a big deal. I actually really like veggie burgers, and grilled portobello mushrooms make a good, filling meat substitute without tasting like meat at all.
But when I explain to people why I’m being such a high maintenence foodie, I get the whole gamut of reactions. Everything from interested questions, timidly insincere nods, to being publicly quizzed on whether or not I know why Catholics are called to abstain from meat. “I bet you didn’t know that Pope So-and-So only instituted that practice because he had family in the fish mongering industry.”
Actually, I have heard that one before, several times, in fact, and I’ve done some research. I’ve found nothing conclusive to support that claim. In fact, it was surprisingly hard to find anything that answered my question about when and why that tradition came into being, other than that we do it in memory of Our Lord’s Passion, though no one said why it was the meat of warm-blooded animals.
I heard long ago (and found some others say it on various forums that popped up on Google) that because warm-blooded meat was a rich man’s food, and fish, a poor man’s food, the pope wanted the rich to identify with the poor in this way. This doesn’t seem likely to me either, but a whole heck of a lot more likely than the idea that a pope was taking religion-changing measures to help out the fish industry during a time when, due to the availability of fish and the conditions of the majority, it was probably doing well enough on its own. I get that there have been corrupt, power-seeking popes in the Church’s history, but I’m just not buying it.
Eventually, I found that the teaching is first mentioned in The Didache of the Apostles, written in the 1st Century. Hey, good enough for me! The Didache contains basically all the other core truths of Christianity.
Whatever happened in history, though, I can think of one reason that abstaining from meat on Fridays is good for Catholics: It reminds us of who we are. Most of the week, it’s easy to forget you’re Catholic. Since high school, I’ve gone months at a time where every waking moment was spent either at a church, at a convent, with nuns and prayer schedules and in all other ways, identifying as Catholic in a routine that was just taken for granted.
Between August and December of last year, I worked at my Church and its school and went to Mass every day. When the semester ended and I got a paying job, I still went to Mass several times a week until moving to the other side of town made only Sunday Mass possible. And I miss it. I miss feeling as Catholic as I did. And yet, there are people who’ve never had the opportunity to have daily reminders of who they are and their duty to the Church. For all of us who have to live in the world and can’t spend life kneeling in Adoration, we have Fridays. Fridays that make us think before we order a Bacon Double Cheeseburger: “Oh, shoot, it’s Friday. Guess I’ll go home and… make a PB&J.” Whatever was in the heart and mind of the man who first gave us this duty, God surely saw the benefits of this.
The same goes for my scapular, and my veil, and all the other little things required of Catholics that make us put in the little extra effort, that remind us that men are meant to be in the world and not of it.
I don’t mind explaining to people that there is one day a week that I don’t eat meat. Some people are genuinely curious and thoughtful. I’ve had very nice people, non-Catholics, say how much they love my scapular, and sound proud to show that they even recognize one when they see it.
No, what bothers me is the people who presume to tell me that my traditions are dumb. People who won’t say anything negative about Muslim women in a Hijab, (these are often feminists who, I would think, would be the first to recognize this as a gross injustice against women by their male oppressors. Instead they admire the courage it takes to go against the American-Judeo-Christian grain in such an open way. Apparently, sticking it to one Man is more important than sticking it to another) or even acknowledge that they’ve noticed it out of fear of being accused of bigotry or hate, will openly laugh at my religion’s traditions. Literally– the same individuals. Jews have much more finicky diets than Catholics in regards to meat, (for much stranger reasons) and I don’t hear anyone scoffing at them.
“I went to Catholic school,” I said once.
“Oh, so that’s why you are the way you are,” sneered my coworker.
Replace “Catholic school” with “Buddhist monastary” or something like that, and I couldn’t imagine anyone having the gall to act like it’s anything less than extraordinary. And dare I become indignant at this offense, and it just fans the flame, while being accused of a hate crime against any other racial, ethnic or religious group is seen as the ultimate taboo.
People seem to think that most non-Christian religions are exotic, exciting and progressive (read: trendy) compared to stodgy ol’ Christianity. Quote Gandhi and every 20-something (and anyone who read “Eat, Pray, Love”) in the room will solemnly nod in agreement; quote the Psalms–sublimely poetic, in even a superficial way– and you’re a religious fanatic. Then they feel they need to fix you, to unravel those crazy ideals of yours when they’re obviously so 1489. Outdated. Obsolete. In so many words, I’ve been made aware my “corruption” is some people’s personal undertaking. No, they don’t even pretend to respect my religious sensitivities.
Yes, I have a persecution complex. Yes, this makes me angry that I, a bigoted, brainwashed, bitter (how’s that for alliteration?) Christian am more respectful of my tolerant, enlightened, open-minded liberal friends than they are of me. It upsets me that some of my friends, who care about me, won’t read my writing because I spend too much time talking about “Catholic stuff.” Yes, it hurts. But that’s reality, and being Catholic is all about living in reality and dealing with it as it is.
I’m probably preaching to the choir. Pretty much all the Catholics I know will be nodding in agreement, I think. We all know that the people who are crying out the loudest for “tolerance” are the ones most likely to be incited to anger or condescending antagonism at the sight of a Catholic living his or her Faith.