By Father Joseph Sia
Every year, when Lent begins, I post a reminder in the church bulletin and make an announcement about the rules for fasting and abstinence. One time, a parishioner came up to me to invite me to a party that she was hosting on a Friday of Lent. I smiled at her and said, “So are you serving all seafood dishes?” With that, there was an awkward pause. Then she looked at me, rolled her eyes, and answered, rather sarcastically, “But on Saturday we can eat meat?”
Upholding church teaching is not always easy. It can, at the very least, make for uncomfortable social interactions, like the one I had with my parishioner. On the other hand, it can lead to more serious situations, such as heated arguments, loss of friendships and family ties and even physical violence! As a priest, I have heard the lament of many Catholics who have found themselves struggling with a family member or friend who does not, or cannot, follow church teachings on certain matters; for example, a child who refuses to go to Sunday Mass, a nephew who is living with his girlfriend, a sister who is divorced and re-married outside the church, a son who is in a same-sex relationship, etc. I have also heard from Catholics who are in these very situations — couples who are civilly married but not married in the church, a husband who is addicted to pornography, a woman who chose to have in-vitro fertilization, etc.
Regardless of which side of the coin you are on (and sometimes we can be on either side), the first step is to pray to God with humility and obedience. Ask for the wisdom and understanding to remain faithful to the truth that God has revealed to his church through Scripture and Tradition, keeping in mind that God’s teachings are not always the most popular in today’s society. Have trust in knowing that it is by following God’s ways that we can have the joy that we so long for; it is by denying ourselves that we can be united to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Pray also for guidance from the Holy Spirit and for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as prudence and fortitude, so that you can respond to these challenges in an appropriate, charitable way. Finally, ask God for the strength to live out these values and teachings of our church, and to have patience for your brothers and sisters as they carry their crosses.
As we begin another Lenten journey, we are reminded of the uniqueness of our church and her teachings, from the most serious moral and ethical codes to the seemingly trivial dietary prescriptions of not eating meat on Fridays. Yet, it is actually a command to eat and drink that is at the heart of our church: “Take, eat, this is my body; take, drink, this is my blood.”
Have a blessed Lenten season. Oh, and by the way, if you are wondering about my parishioner’s party, I did go that Friday night. I brought a vegetable tray and had a good time!
(Fr. Sia is pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Columbus Junction and sacramental minister at St. Joseph Parish in West Liberty.)