Sea bream and ham

The practice of abstinence, for a Christian in Lent, has its center in the surrender of the will rather than in the mere materiality of the flesh.

February 19, 2021-Reading time: 2 minutes

The arrival of Lent brings with it the consequent discussion about the Christian practice of mortifications. Especially, perhaps because of its repetition, abstinence.

The "brother-in-law" arguments repeated in the various forums where it is known that there is a practicing Catholic will return: that it is old-fashioned, that it is worse to eat a kilo of oysters than a chicken thigh, that it is nonsense....

The truth is that, like many sterile discussions, if in trying to explain the practice of abstinence from meat on certain days we focus on the "materiality" of chicken, duck or sea bream, we err in principle.

The real penance is not just the act of trading turkey for cheese, but the surrender of one's will in something "as silly" as trading turkey for cheese.

It would be very easy to find all kinds of reasoning about the suitability, or not, of this change when what really has to change is the heart itself. Not to eat meat is not to feed that omniscient self that clamors to win a battle as insignificant as that of substituting one food or another.

Abstinence brings us face to face with what we 'can do' but do not do for a greater cause: love. If our penance is empty of love, if we do not live it as an act of love-important, even if we are "used to it"-then we will surely begin to judge it as a silly routine to which we see no sense.

As in any love relationship, after all, that is what the Christian life is all about, the game is played in the soul with the expressions of the body.

This is how it is pointed out by the CatechismThe interior penance of the Christian can have very varied expressions. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms: fasting, prayer and almsgiving".

Keeping abstinence is, therefore, a manifestation - quite simple, moreover - of love. We remember, in a certain way, an infinite sacrifice with a gesture that is simple in form. This year, as we have had to give so much in form, the battle is fought more in substance.

Probably these days of Lent be a good time to put on the table our superiorities, our opinions and our wills, even the self-satisfaction of "not eating ham" on a Friday in Lent.

As the Pope said at the beginning of this time, "what makes us return to him is not to boast of our abilities and our merits, but to welcome his grace. Grace saves us, salvation is pure grace, pure gratuity".

With these Lenten penances, with abstinence in this case, we unite ourselves, in the end, to the Passion of Christ by taking a tiny part of the cross, so tiny that, if we think about it, we may feel a certain embarrassment: it is not much that the Church asks of us on a Friday of Lent...

We could say that it is far less than what the average dietitian asks of us for every day. But, as in the Mass, Christ takes our small denials and lifts them up. As I once heard it said: "the road to heaven is paved with small steps.

The authorMaria José Atienza

Editor-in-Chief at Omnes. Degree in Communication, with more than 15 years of experience in Church communication. She has collaborated in media such as COPE or RNE.

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