The Virtual Triviality of Religion
It’s not all about the rules, but it kind of is.
I was hit with a piece of news yesterday. The bishop of my local diocese has granted a general dispensation to the Catholic faithful of the diocese, and we are now free to eat meat on Friday, March 17, which coincides with the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. I imagine the notion is many Catholics, especially Irish-Catholics (whether in truth or spirit) would perhaps be sinfully indulging in corned beef. Now not only are Catholics of this diocese free to do that, but also presumably a T-bone or a chicken wing is cool now too. This dispensation comes with a price. In place of the sacrifice that is abstaining from meat, Catholics are required to perform some other work of penance on that day.
I initially took this news item poorly. Just ask my wife, who had to listen to my rant. It all seemed so trivial. How can we just arbitrarily do this sort of thing? It makes the whole exercise seem meaningless. I thought about concocting an essay on the subject, but I chose to exercise restraint and patience, two things for which I am not well-known. Being on my Lenten journey I decided that I would meditate on this a bit and then try to spin the idea in as positive manner as I possibly can.
Seems to me that a sacrifice becomes more pure if what is being sacrificed is of increased importance to the person making the sacrifice. People who never eat meat cannot make much of a sacrifice during Lent and neither do people who actually prefer fish. But long ago, Abraham was called to sacrifice his only son Isaac. Now that was a real big ask and certainly makes the notion of forgoing brined brisket not just a bit trivial. Point being that St. Patrick’s Day carnivores would be making a much larger than normal Friday offering by foregoing the corned beef portion of the Jiggs dinner.
But through his grant of accommodation, the bishop has actually made that opportunity for important sacrifice that much greater. Undoubtedly some Catholics will relish in the fact that they will not be breaking any rules this year by partaking of the traditional feast, but many others will forego the meat, even though they do no longer are required to, just to keep with the spirit of the season. They will follow the rules even though the rules are no longer the rules, because they want to and not because they have to.
That, in a nutshell, is what Lent means to me.
I imagine the bishop, sitting at his desk within the confines of his office just after signing the order granting dispensation, whispering to an aide, “See what I did there?”