We became very good in the years following the Council in calling for the reform of structures, systems, institutions, and people other than ourselves.That, too, is important; it can transform our society and world. But did we fail along the way to realize that in no way can the New Evangelization be reduced to a program, a process, or a call to structural reform; that it is first and foremost a deeply personal conversion within? “The Kingdom of God is within,” as Jesus taught. [….]
The work of our Conference during the coming year includes reflections on re-embracing Friday as a particular day of penance, including the possible re-institution of abstinence on all Fridays of the year, not just during Lent.
What’s given up isn’t technically “meat” but the Latin “caro,” which means “flesh.” This is why fish is allowed: their meat isn’t considered “flesh.” So why do we give up flesh on Fridays? Two reasons.
First, “flesh” is often the term the New Testament writers (particularly St. Paul) use to describe our sinful appetites. So in Romans 8:13, Paul says, “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” We give up “flesh meat” to symbolize putting to death the deeds of the flesh.
Second, Christ Redeemed us by offering up His Flesh for our salvation on Good Friday. St. Paul explains in Colossians 1:19-23
For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell, and having made peace through the blood of His Cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself — by Him, I say, whether they be things on earth or things in heaven.
And you, who were once alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, even now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblamable and unreprovable in His sight, if ye continue grounded and settled in the faith, and be not moved away from the hope of the Gospel, which ye have heard and which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, am made a minister.
So Christ, by being put to Death in the Flesh, reconciles us to the Father. So our job is done, right? Christ bore all the bad stuff, so we’re home free? Not quite. St. Paul says in the very next breath (Colossians 1:24-25)
I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh, for His body’s sake, which is the church, of which I am made a minister according to the dispensation of God, which is given to me for you, to fulfill the Word of God– even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints.
Just read that passage a couple times, and tell me that St. Paul wasn’t a Catholic. Christ being put to Death in the Flesh reconciles us to God the Father, but the Passion doesn’t mean that we’re going to free-ride. Rather, our job is to take up our cross daily, and follow Christ (Luke 9:23). A Cross is a for killing: Christ is saying that we have to die to ourselves every day. So it’s fitting that we put away the flesh-meat on Friday, the day of week which forever honors Christ’s Passion, to signify both our love of the ultimate Sacrifice of the Flesh, and to emulate our Savior by mortifying the flesh for the sake of the Spirit.
On a related, somewhat-amusing historical note: did you know that the Catholics of South America treat the capybara as a fish for Friday abstinence purposes, since it spends much of its time in the water? Nor is that oddity merely historical: capybara remains a popular Lenten dish in Venezuela. But prior to the modern system of classifying animals, there were several mammals (like beaver) that were lumped in with “fish” for purposes of the Friday abstinence. For example, the 19th century explorer Alexander von Humboldt noted in his travel diary that:
[The capybara’s] flesh has a musky smell somewhat disagreeable; jet hams are made of it in this country, a circumstance which almost justifies the name of “water-hog,” given to the chiguire by some of the older naturalists. The missionary monks do not hesitate to eat these hams during Lent. According to their zoological classification they place the armadillo, the thick-nosed taper, and the manati, near the tortoises; the first, because it is covered with a hard armour like a sort of shell ; and the others because they are amphibious.
No word yet what Cardinal Dolan’s stance is on these faux-fish.