Even though I know Lent calls us to focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving, what is usually on the forefront of my mind each Lent is…FISH FRY! We’ve had another great season here at St. Patrick and I’m so grateful for all the amazing people that come together each year to make it happen. (THANK YOU!! – You know who you are!) Ever since spending my summers in college working at a fish and chips shop up in No. Michigan, I’ve loved the idea of a fish fry! However, I’m not going to lie, while I’ve always known Catholics can eat fish, rather than meat, on Fridays during Lent, I’ve never actually known why, so I decided to do some research…
I thought I’d discover some deep spiritual meaning, or even maybe a connection to the fact that some of the apostles were fishermen, but my quick Google search revealed a much less meaningful history. The Church originally called its people to abstain from eating meat on certain days as a simple exercise to aid in our spiritual development, the sacrifice commemorating the sacrifice Jesus made for us. Meat is generally considered to be the flesh of warm-blooded land animals, and so looking for a technicality, people began consuming the flesh of fish on days of abstinence, claiming it was a cold-blooded, water-dwelling creature and therefore not meat. Thus, humans looking for a loophole is really what began this tradition that lives on even today!
So based on that history, I can’t now write about some deep and meaningful connection between the Fish Fry and our Lenten journey, but I think there’s still something to be learned about abstinence and fasting. Fasting, or any sacrifice, teaches us about self-discipline, about resisting temptation, and about what it means to offer up our pain, suffering, or discomfort in union with the one who sacrificed so much for us. But, I think fasting also opens up space for new things to grow. When we say no to one thing, there is room for something else to take its place (Just like the fish!).
I gave up TV for Lent this year, and it’s opened up time to read some of the many books that have been sitting unopened on my shelf. Giving up shopping could free up some money that could be used to donate to a good cause. Giving up social media apps could free up space for more meaningful, real-life human interactions. Giving up chocolate might lead to a delicious new cookie recipe that we would never have tried had we not given up chocolate. Sometimes there isn’t room for anything new until we let go of something and free up that space.
Fasting can seem restrictive, but it’s also freeing. It opens up the opportunity for change, for growth, for new ways of doing things. When people replaced meat with fish on days of abstinence, it not only started a long-lasting tradition, but it actually slowly led to some pretty significant economic and cultural changes in society, especially as it related to the fishing industry! (Do a google search to learn more about it!) Sometimes it’s kind of crazy to think how small changes in our own lives can have a significant impact on not only us, but those around us, and even society at large!
It’s human nature to fill the voids in our lives. Lent gives us the opportunity to open up spaces so they can be filled, hopefully with something better, something life-giving, and something we might not have thought of had that space been filled with something else. Reflecting back on your own sacrifices this Lenten season, how has God opened up space for something new in your life?