Some say it was safer to eat fish than meat. Everyone knew the specific time frame in which it was safe to eat fish, while people tended to test that time frame with beef. There’s some historical evidence to that too, dating back to about the seventh century.
Some point out that hundreds of years ago only the very wealthy could afford meat. Fish (in comparison) was the poor man’s meal. It was cheap, humble food that you had to catch yourself.
Some say that not eating meat helped folks to focus on the humility of Christ, who lived a simple man’s life. There are literally dozens of other examples for this disciplines evolution over the years and the Church’s maintenance of it. They are good to know, but they didn’t help me a lot when I was teenager. I just knew that I wanted meat.
Thinking about how often my physical body can lead me into sin and away from God, it is great to have a chance to let my body help lead me out of sin and toward God. That’s the essence of what St. Peter was saying when he wrote:
“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same thought, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin…” (1 Peter 4:1)You see? Abstinence from meat is more than just “going without” during Lent or just a reminder that Christ offered His flesh for us on the cross. Abstinence is a form of prayer, a discipline. When we abstain from meat, we focus on Christ and on our souls, rather than on self and on our bodies. It is faith in action, placing our attention on Jesus and offering Him “our flesh” as a sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2), a vessel through which He can and does work.
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. I guess you could say that abstinence makes the body (and soul) grow holier…if we embrace it and allow it. Meat is great, but Jesus seemed to do pretty well with just bread and fish, and so did everyone else who received the feast that day (Mt 15:34-37). Remember, God made vegetables, too.
- Mark Hart