Saturday, June 18, 2011

Yes, But ...

I had breakfast with my friend this morning. We had our usual conversation about matters of family, church, state, sports, and of course the stock market. I enjoy our weekly mornings together. And I mentioned to him that I had read, this week, the statement put out by the British bishops announcing the re-commencement of meatless Fridays in Britain. I told my friend what a good thing I thought this was. He responded, “Yes, but I have dinner with my grandchild every Friday night, a time for us to share and grow closer, and I’m not too sure he’d appreciate eating fish each Friday. For that matter, I’m not too sure I’d be keen on that either.”

I had an instinctive reaction to that, to his instinctive reaction. His immediate reaction was “Yes, but …” And my immediate reaction was “You don’t get it” (although I did not voice my reaction with those words).

Unfortunately, my friend’s reaction was the same as that of most Christians, sadly even me. Our first thoughts on matters of faith are to ourselves. How will I be inconvenienced by this? His response to the goodness of a matter of faith was a single word: yes. His response to how it impacted him was a litany of words, and feelings. He concluded by saying: “Well, maybe I could do meatless Thursdays or something.”

He didn’t get it.

The Church does not ask us to discipline ourselves as a form of punishment. The commandments are there not to punish men, but to help them grow in holiness. And even if a commandment were, for me, a form of punishment, for all mankind they are a blessing. The commandments, the world, and other people, do not exist just for me and my convenience. Yet that is our immediate reaction to them. “What’s in it for me?” But if we could be honest in asking that question, “What’s in it for me?” we’d see it is not a bad one, for all those things do impact us. But we are quick to only look at “what’s bad” in it for me, and not “what’s good” in it for me. And what’s good in it for me, is what’s good for my neighbor.

I told my friend a story of how once I heard from a stranger how my life had influenced his, even though I was not trying to influence him, and indeed I was barely aware of his existence. But he was, as I found out, aware of me, and was influenced by the actions he saw. And it made a major difference in his life, and a good one. I told my friend this story to illustrate the importance of the example we set for others in this world, even if we are not aware of it. I view meatless Fridays in that light.

Meatless Fridays as a form of voluntary penance for us is a good thing, a reminder of our faith, a reminder of what Jesus gave up. Sacrifice is a good thing, and a good discipline to establish. But even more, it is a good example. Yes, perhaps we might not be convenienced by giving up meat on Fridays, “maybe I can do it some other day.” But then the example would be lost. If all Catholics abstained from meat on Fridays, every restaurant would notice our public witness, and at least some would ask “why?” And importantly, some would seek out the answer to that “why”. (Even the Romans asked why these Christians love each other so much, that they would die for one another.) If we abstained from meat each Friday, we would also be a witness to our family. And our children would ask “why”, and we could very simply give them an important lesson in faith, and in life --- and they would remember it.

And it would work even for our grandkids.

The British bishops as part of the same announcement said they will seek to break out some of the “convenient” celebrations of certain feast days which had crept into the Church calendar, from Sunday back to the weekdays on which they were previously celebrated. Ascension Thursday will again be celebrated on Thursday. This too, is a good thing, and witness.

I’m not big on going into the theological significance of many of the Church’s teachings and practices. I have researched most everything I question, and I have found them to have great reasons for being as they are, the good outweighing any “inconvenience” they may cause to individual members of the Church. Unfortunately, so much of our culture focuses on us as individuals and what we want, and ignores things for the benefit of the culture (or Church) as a whole. We see it in the debates about homosexuality and married priests, and in the debates about curtailing the expenses of national social programs to prevent a national bankruptcy. Everyone acknowledges the facts and the need for discipline, and then says:

“Yes, but …” And then follows the reason why it should not apply to me.

Our instinctive thinking is to believe that we are more important than others, even if we don’t say things that way --- but our actions (and reactions) do. The saving of all the people of the Church, or all of the people of the country, does not seem to outweigh our concerns for ourselves.

I guess I’m glad that Jesus didn’t feel that way. He’d never have come to earth, for certainly He didn’t die only for Himself. He did it for us --- and to give witness to us. And we complain that we can’t give witness by changing our menu for one day.

What must He be thinking?

No comments:

Post a Comment