By Fr. Bill Kneemiller
KANDAHAR AIR BASE, Afghanistan — In the season of Lent, many of us have stories about the discipline of not eating meat on Fridays. During the first Friday in Lent, the officers in my unit were invited to supper at the United Arab Emirates compound.
This compound was only a 10-minute walk, so we headed towards our Arab brothers who have a platoon-sized unit here of UAE soldiers, along with 26 other NATO countries.
As we started walking, I realized that I might be in an awkward position with the meal. A typical Afghan meal is lamb or beef kabob with fruit or veggies as side dishes. As if on cue, I overhead two Catholic officers from my unit in an animated discussion about the very thing I was thinking — whether they could eat meat at the meal. One of them had searched the Internet for the church’s teachings on Lent and the seriousness of the sin.
After a heated exchange, they turned to me for guidance. I said: “In my first parish back at St Paul the Apostle in Davenport, one Friday, a lady called right before going to a Lenten lunch where the main dish was chicken. She said, ‘Of course I won’t eat the chicken, but is it OK to put chicken gravy over the veggies?’ I could have just given a dispensation, or said no. But I ran and got the Catechism, and read her a sentence on the teaching of fasting and abstinence: ‘The value of fasting and abstinence is to gain mastery over the senses which gives us freedom of heart.’”
I asked the officers, “Don’t you think the teaching is much richer than the precepts or rules?”
But even this catechetical answer wasn’t enough; I was pressed by the two officers who mentioned that it’s a delicate situation because of the culture. “We might offend our host…”
Now it was elevated to an international incident! But one of the officers said, boldly, “I’d rather offend a host than to offend my Lord!”
I was impressed by his witness, and told him that he just hit a Catholic home run! Doesn’t our faith really come down to our witness to our faith and our relationship with the Lord? Discipline is closely related
to “disciple.” Do we ever consider the relationship between mastery over the senses and our freedom of heart to love God? We need purity and freedom of our hearts to live our faith. Our faith is in someone that we may never see in this life, but can sense he is there. Listen to him! “Faith is the evidence of things not seen.” — Hebrews 11.
(Fr. Kneemiller is a priest of the Diocese of Davenport who is serving as a chaplain in the Army Reserves in Afghanistan.)