An old pizza box I’ve been using as a hot pad for baking sheets of French fry dinners sits on the table. Its pathetic begging to be recycled is tiresome, so I boldly push into its neglect. Alongside it is an old, white Nintendo Wii and a Wii remote with dead batteries and a missing battery cover. An empty Sour Cream & Onion Pringles can from last night, still there—an unimpressive pillar. Empty. And there are other items. But there are no books here anymore. Next to my left hand, are some pencil shavings. And my Autumn mug filled with penitential coffee is at my right. I take a sip.
Hells, that’s some bad shizz.
Most of the mess on the table this Friday could be ordered in a matter of minutes. Most of it needs to be burned up or washed clean. Today, like every other day, is a good one for cleaning.
It is St Patrick’s Day. Children, fearful of pinching, dress in green. And this year corned beef and cabbage runs squarely up against Friday’s Lenten obligation to abstain from meat, which has resulted in many bishops giving a dispensation from our obligation today. Our diocese has done this, thanks be to God. Because meat. Such actions always gives me pause about the burdens that Mother Church lays upon us, an opportunity to consider and re-consider these obligations and their purpose(s). It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to understand that there is nothing intrinsically evil about eating meat on a Friday in springtime. Yet a moral weight is lent it for our penance. To what end?
I’m uptight about some things. Like missing the first few minutes of a movie, or arriving somewhere late. But I’m fairly easygoing. And I’m trying to be more easygoing in more areas of my life. I probably am pretty tightly laced compared to many people. But life is too short to always be tied into knots because of other people’s expectations. And life is too beautiful.
So I dropped off one daughter late to school this morning. She had told me she needed something from the store for school the night before. But we both forgot about it this morning until it was too late. So I kept her in the car as I dropped off the others and took her to the grocery store. She would be tardy; everyone else would be tardy if I’d done it differently. This happens occasionally. It happened to one of her sisters yesterday. But she was not happy, the thought of tardies and potential detentions down the road frustrated her. She dragged out, “It goes on my permanent record.” It would have been funnier if she wasn’t taking it all so seriously, like I also have a tendency to do. In some sense, Daughter, everything that happens is permanent, I suppose. It has entered the cliched annals of history that become only murkiness over time. Permanent records are impermanent things. My high school GPA, for instance, is only permanent in any real way to me. I’m the only soul alive on this planet that has a reason to give a fig about it. And I don’t.
“Permanent records” and such things are carrots and sticks, for the ordering of a community or a society. They’re in place in order to get people from Point A to Point B—and eventually to Z—smoothly, much like traffic lights and double lines. Sometimes these arbitrary symbols and social emperors are revealed to be naked for us, like when I spent five minutes at a broken red light in the dead of night—the only soul awake in town. And sometimes those very ideas are there working for our good, for our safety and our life.
I am not trying to deconstruct morality because I’m allowed corned beef today, by the way. I believe in a moral law that may not be dispensed with. (Unlike the grammar rules governing that last sentence.) But there are many practices given to us, and given to us with moral weight (or, as an obligation), that are there for our good, for order’s sake, rather than because such actions are fundamentally opposed to life, like the commandment to love, or the prohibition to kill. Good men and women in authority, awake to charity, know how to discern between the two. Know when mercy is in order. Know when charity is being offended by the strict adherence to a rule. Know that the Sabbath was made for man, rather than man for the Sabbath.
To what end, then, are these obligations given to us? For what purpose do these obligations—that can seem so arbitrary at times—exist? Why are they necessary for us? They are necessary to wake us up to participate in the moments and seasons of life. They are for our good and the good of our children. To help us remember. And in remembering, to repent. And in repenting, to share in the Divine life. So that we might love all people and all things as God does.
For what it’s worth, I ate fish for lunch today in solidarity with my brothers and sisters for whom the obligation was not lifted. But mostly because I like fish tacos.