23 April 2009

God willing, this won't be the last letter like this

The Bishop of Steubenville, Ohio, wrote a pastoral letter last month encouraging the people of his Diocese to "rediscover" the practice of abstaining from meat on all Fridays of the year. Speaking as one who prayerfully came to the same conclusion last year, I can only hope that more bishops will speak out on this matter. I won't post the full text of the letter here, but here are a few snippets so you get the gist of what Bishop Conlon is saying (emphasis mine):

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We cannot become literally other Christs. We can be transformed by his life and be instruments of his life for others. Just as he accomplished salvation through his supreme sacrifice on the cross, we can fulfill our Christian mission through sacrifice. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, fast and care for the poor as types of sacrifice.

Maybe we separate these three activities into distinct functions. Jesus drew them together in feeding the multitude. He took the meager food of the apostles, prayed over it and distributed it to the poor. On Calvary, after a day with no food or drink, he gave his life for us sinners, all the while praying to his Father.

We can do the same in a very simple way. I am inviting the Catholic people of the Diocese of Steubenville to resume the practice of abstaining from meat on all Fridays throughout the year, but with a twist. I am asking that this be not only a penitential practice but also an experience of prayer and service. This can happen by connecting abstinence with our witness to the sacredness of human life.

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Abstinence is a form of fasting—a discipline of the body. It can remind us of the beautiful gift of life that God has given to us personally. It can also remind us and each other of how sacred everyone else’s life is. As a public witness, it can be a service to those whose life and human dignity are at risk.

Next to Sunday, Friday has always been a special day in the Catholic Church for prayer. Offering prayer for life--praising God as the source of life and begging him to turn away threats to life--is a fitting addition to abstinence. This prayer can be in the parish setting, in the family or alone. Abstinence itself can be offered consciously as a prayer for life and in reparation for sins against life.

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Until 1966, Catholics around the world were required to abstain from meat on all Fridays. That year, Pope Paul VI determined that the rules for fasting and abstinence should be set by the various episcopal conferences according to local circumstances. At the same time, he reminded us that doing penance was commanded by Christ himself and is an important part of our spiritual life.

The bishops of the United States eliminated mandatory abstinence from meat on Fridays except during Lent. However, they insisted that all Catholics should observe some penitential practice on Fridays, in remembrance of the Lord’s passion and death, and they highly recommended continuing abstinence from meat.

So, the present challenge to the people in our diocese is not really radical. It is a call to what many if not most of us have put aside. And it is a way for us, like the apostles, to give up a little food and help Jesus feed the world.

1 comment:

Karen said...

Hey, I'm in favor of anything the gets people eating less meat!