We always find ourselves a little bit conflicted this time of year. We are what are known as “cradle” Catholics, which means our parents were Catholic too – funny how that works out – and of course we tagged along. Not that we’re complaining! But along with its beautiful liturgy and tremendous art and music, it also seems to be one of the religions with the most rules. And here we are – it’s Lent, right? – the penitential season, a season of fast and abstinence. So we read the rules and on Ash Wednesday we skipped breakfast, dutifully got our ashes, and headed off with Mrs. Idler to St. Maximilian Kolbe church for the fish fry, where we had one of the biggest and best meals of the year.
The first fish fry of the season is usually all that. First, there’s the novelty. If you’re like us, cheap, you probably don’t go out to eat at lunch time very often anyway, so it’s an event.
Then there’s the size. St. Max is like a lot of the churches and fire halls in that serving size ranges from gargantuan to stupendous.
Finally there’s the side dish assortment: including those awesome, ethnicky, carbo-loaded delicacies like pierogies and haluski, swimming in butter. Most places have fries and mac & cheese available. The fish is more than enough but you just can’t pass them by.
It’s such a great and glorious meal that the idea of strapping on the feedbag that evening is totally out of the question, and this goes double for the Mrs. who fields most of the food prep duties chez Idler and is delighted to have a night off, especially from the dishwasher. (She is one of those extremely finicky people who like to clean up after a meal within like 72 hours if possible. Totally OCD.) But the long and short of it is, we didn’t feel very fasted, and therefore not all that penitential.
Maybe it’s different for young people. If you only judged by the fast food commercials on TV, the natural state of modern society is for everybody to be is pigging out 24/7. This was not the case for previous generations.
For instance, the word “breakfast” refers not just to the “fast breaks” you see so often in all the basketball games aired during Lent, but also to the fact that in ancient times people could go for up to several hours without so much as a chalupa. The concept of “snacking” was virtually unknown in colonial America, for instance, and it was not until the pioneering work of the Earl of Sandwich that the theoretical foundations of the hoagie were first grasped by Eighteenth century researchers. So when you fired up your first pop-tart of the day, you were indeed “break”-ing your “fast.” Contrast that to today when Wendy’s drive thru window is open practically all night. Paul Revere couldn’t have scored even tea & scones if his life depended on it.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, you’ll never guess what’s going on in Philadelphia.
Archbishop Chaput, who arrived in the city of brotherly love in 2011, has taken note of the fact that St. Patrick’s day falls on a Friday this year. So what did he do? He issued a dispensation from the requirement of abstinence so that the faithful of Irish descent could enjoy their traditional corned beef and cabbage.
The trouble is that there are certain other aspects of the Lenten observance in play here. Like the fact that you gave up something you really really like for the duration. We’re not going to tell you what we were stupid enough to give up, but you know all those scenes in “Lawrence of Arabia where he’s sitting on top of his camel and there’s nothing to see but endless stretches of shimmering sand and cloudless sky? Everything is starting to look like that to us. Also we told the Panera kid we liked our coffee “straight, no chaser.” It’s already been a week, and we’re hoping to complete our whole sentence unless some medical emergency (toothache, hangnail, split ends) intervenes. But it sure would be nice to get a little, you know, parole or something.
Therefore, we’d like to respectfully impart this notion to the Archbishop, and to our own Bishop Zubik if he’s listening: In the catalog of St. Patrick’s Day dispensations, relief from corned beef restrictions is probably not terribly high on the average Irishman’s list. Nor on Mrs. Idler’s list, seeing as how she’d have to cook it. We’d put it down there below white wine spritzers and right above fried jumbo. Rather, what about a dispensation from our Lenten resolutions? Just the one day, then straight back to the desert. Honest.
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