By Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, Commentary | Published March 6, 2019 | En Español
After our confirmation celebration this week at Holy Cross Church, a member of Knights of Columbus Council 10355 came into the sacristy to hand me a flyer announcing their annual Lenten fish fry scheduled for the Fridays of Lent. He assured me that it was the best one in the entire Archdiocese of Atlanta. I told him that I had heard similar statements from other parish fish fry promoters. He said that I would simply have to compare them!
The same type of promotional message is being aired in the media by many of our fast food businesses as they tout their scrumptious fish sandwiches and fish tacos. You know it will soon be Lent when the Knights of Columbus and popular restaurants are in competition with their seafood offerings. You might say our Catholic tradition of eating fish on the Fridays of Lent has become an ecumenical and interfaith venture for many businesses. Even in communities where we Catholics are not in the majority, fish sales are brisk in Lent. Perhaps many folks there have no idea why fish is the desired Friday fare. On the other hand, our senior Catholics may be able to remember a time when both Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent required a meatless cuisine.
While the Church requires us to abstain from meat on the Fridays of Lent, it does not require us to eat seafood. A young woman has actually challenged Pope Francis to go vegan during this Lent, though I do not know if he has accepted her challenge. Diets during Lent do endure some challenges, especially for those who are not seafood lovers. For them, it’s a real penance to find an appealing seafood or meatless choice. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, I am a seafood lover so the Lenten requirement to abstain from meat on Fridays is hardly a real penance for me.
Like all of you, though, I too must find a way of genuine self-denial as a part of my own Lenten journey of prayer, penance and almsgiving. Our food consumption is not the only arena wherein we can find a penance during this holy season. Candy, cocktails and desserts are popular choices for self-denial. However, they may prove to be easy choices compared to other possible options—like refraining from gossip and harsh speech, from our unruly and unbalanced use of social media, or from the vicious criticism of others.
It may be a real penance for us to consider and to restrict that which comes out of our mouths rather than what we might take into our mouths. Abstaining from brutal speech could be the most difficult penance that any one of us might undertake this Lent. To do so, we urgently need the other two elements of the Church’s Lenten practice—increased prayer and works of charity. Those two additional activities would bolster our efforts to speak more kindheartedly and thus make for a much better world for everyone.
As the last Sunday’s Gospel reminded us: “For from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” May our hearts this Lent be filled with peace, compassion and kindness so that the words we use will contain the same.