Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Counter-Cultural Canon

Sometimes, being counter-cultural is no fun, especially if you’re doing it not because you want to, but because you are obliged to.

I’m speaking of Canon 1250.

The Code of Canon Law is binding on all Latin Rite Catholics. Eastern Rite Catholics have their own code (the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches). Canon 1250 is the law that stipulates that every Friday is to be a day of penance. The standard form for the penance is abstinence from meat, but Catholics in the United States are allowed to substitute some other form of penance. Following the Second Vatican Council, most Catholics were told that they were now allowed to eat meat on Friday, and the requirement for a substitute penance was never heard. The American Bishops’ reasoning, it seems, was that abstinence from meat wasn’t enough of a sacrifice: “Since the spirit of penance primarily suggests that we discipline ourselves in that which we enjoy most, to many in our day abstinence from meat no longer implies penance, while renunciation of other things would be more penitential.”

I’ve been thinking about Canon 1250 ever since I saw it mentioned recently on another blog (God Is With Us), and I’ve concluded that it truly is a counter-cultural canon. I say that because Friday, in American culture, is anything but penitential. We have casual Friday and Friday Fun Day. Friday ends the work week and initiates the weekend. Friday night is the time to party. I would be so much easier to do penance on Monday or Wednesday.

But the Code says Fridays are penitential, in memory of Our Lord’s Passion.

Perversely, I try to have it both ways. I celebrate the end of the week, but I do it without eating meat. The abstinence acts as a reminder of my Catholic identity, but it hardly rises to the level of penance. I have, regrettably, given in to the temptation to minimalize, doing the least necessary to comply with the letter of the law, while happily whistling past the spirit of the law.

It is yet another sign that my conversion is incomplete.

I want to be obedient. I recognize the authority of the Church not only to teach doctrine, but to regulate the spiritual disciplines of her members. When the world calls us to celebration, but the bride of Christ calls us to prayer and sacrifice, I pray that I will have the wisdom and courage to follow where He would lead.

Oh Lord, purify my heart and rid me of my selfish inclinations.

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