Now that Lent has begun, many American Catholics will go back to their tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays, and many of them have been taught that this is the only time for this practice. However, abstinence from meat on Fridays year-round was never abolished by Church law and it was even encouraged by the U.S bishops to still be in the first place among American Catholics even though they did do away with the requirement of abstinence under pain of sin. And the reason we do this form of penance is to have solidarity with other believers who have done this penance in generations past and who continue to do so to show fidelity to Christ and His Church, as well as to show our own love and fidelity to Him even when it might not be required.
Every Sunday, not just those during Lent, is like a mini-Easter celebration, and so EVERY Friday is like a mini-Lent preparing us for Sunday. Unfortunately, the encouragement to keep up the Friday abstinence year-round was never really passed down to the faithful and all that was really heard was the fact that the requirement to do so had been abolished. We sadly see this played out in other situations as well, as our fallen human nature tends to want to cut corners and if something isn’t required, then we want to take the easier road and just ignore it altogether. But Jesus tells us that the road to eternal life is narrow and that there are many obstacles that require perseverance and that it will not be easy. It isn’t meant to be. Showing our love for and commitment to Him requires going above and beyond, especially in situations where we aren’t obliged to obey certain requirements. If we only do things that we are obliged to do for Jesus, is that really love or are we just doing it to say we fulfilled a requirement? When we do things for Him that are not necessarily required of us, it shows that we do them of our own free choice because we want to show Christ how much we really love Him.
Abstaining from meat on Fridays also sets us apart from the world, and this is how we are meant to be. It gives us an opportunity to bear witness to our faith and evangelize to others about our love for Christ Crucified and our fidelity to Him. Once Lent is over, I encourage you to keep up this practice, showing solidarity with other believers and showing Christ just how much you love Him.