My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
These are troubling days. The violence in the streets, the re-definition of marriage, cruelty to the unborn, so-called “end of life” legislation, the slaughter of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East, the plight of immigrants, racial tensions, human trafficking, and, not to mention, drug abuse and increased crime in our own community - people of good will have every reason to be troubled.
I call to mind the words of the Prophet Isaiah when he is speaking to the land of Judah warning them of “those who call evil good, and good evil…Those who are wise in their own eyes…” (Isaiah 5: 20a, 21a). Are we not living in that day today? Are these words not spoken to us in the midst of the horrors of abortion, the proliferation of capital punishment, a national fight for the “right to die,” and the “recognition” of same-sex unions as equal and the same as natural marriage between a man and a woman? In addition, Pope Francis speaks of the consequences of such attitudes in Laudato Si when he calls even the lack of consideration and responsibility for the environment a symptom of the “throwaway” culture (cf. 22). How can we be truly concerned with the future and even our own children when we are so quick to take what we want, when we want it, and how we want it?
Fridays have always held a special place in the religious practice of Catholics. Friday is, of course, associated with the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ. And since liturgical cycles, such as the liturgical year, invite us to enter more fully into the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Church in her wisdom sets aside Friday as a day for penance. From the earliest days of the Church (cf. Didache, 8), the Church developed the custom of acknowledging this day of the week when our Lord sacrificed Himself for our salvation. As time went on, the custom of abstaining from meat developed as a sign of acknowledging our Lord’s Passion. As a child, I remember my parents encouraging me to offer specific prayers through my own small sacrifice of abstaining from meat on Fridays as a means to join my sacrifice with the Great Sacrifice of Christ. To this day, the Church encourages all the faithful to keep the custom of abstaining from meat (Code of Canon Law, 1251). In the United States, the Conference of Bishops has granted a permission to replace abstaining from meat with another penitential act on Fridays other than the Fridays during the Season of Lent when all the faithful of age are to abstain. The idea of sacrificing something is countercultural to the “throwaway” mentality that plagues us today and of which Pope Francis has time and again warned us.
Some would argue that penance and fasting have dropped from the proverbial map over the last fifty years. When the laws of fasting were modified following the Second Vatican Council, especially in this country, the unintended message was sent, I am afraid, that the Church was “doing away” with penitential practices. The days of meatless Fridays and penitential fasting for 40 days were significant signs to others of the seriousness with which Catholics regarded identifying with the Lord Jesus and doing penance for their sins.
In fact, the Church has only modified its penitential practices. Friday remains a penitential day. The Code of Canon Law states: “The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent” (c. 1250). The Second Vatican Council in its documents also makes clear that penitential practices are to be not only internal and personal but also external and public (SC 109). Therefore, since in the United States, one may replace abstaining from meat on Fridays, except in Lent, with some other penitential practice, the obligation remains to do penance on Friday. Penance is many things but it is a response, a response that appeals to God, expresses confidence in His mercy, and recognizes human tribulations.
In light of this and in response to many of the lay faithful requesting a public acknowledgment of the evils abounding today, I am asking that a renewal of the sense of Fridays be observed and maintained in the Diocese of Lake Charles. Fridays should remain a day of penance either by the traditional abstinence from meat or another suitable substantial form of penance. Friday is often devoted to the Sacred Heart of our Lord wounded by the sins of humankind. Thus, by our committing to these various forms of penance, we comfort our Lord’s wounded Heart, and join with Christ by joining our small sacrifices to His Great Sacrifice as my parents often reminded me (cf. Colossians 1:24). Lastly, our penance, great and small, help us to be aware of the needs of those who are without and counters the “throwaway” mentality by reminding us that we cannot get everything that we want, when we want it, and how we want it. God established order, and our fasting, prayer, and abstinence helps put our senses and passions correctly back in this divinely established order.
We do not lose hope, but are reminded of Christ’s words to remain vigilant, to knock, to seek, and to pray with earnest hearts in recognition of the Kingdom of God. With prayers and my own sacrifices offered for you, I remain
Devotedly yours in our Lord,
+Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles