by Father Mark Goldasich
If looks could kill . . .
Every year around this time — with the exception of last year, of course — I get one of “those looks” from the Knights of Columbus in my parish.
One thing definitely not on my “penance list” is the parish fish fry. Each Lenten Friday, my mouth starts to water around noon in anticipation of that evening’s supper: fried catfish, baked tilapia, cole slaw, cheesy potatoes and a wheat roll. (Take a gander at page 3 of this issue to literally see what I’m talking about.) And on two Fridays, there’s shrimp on the menu as well. My sole bit of “fasting” comes from not eating the scrumptious peach cobbler for dessert.
The “look” comes when I suggest to the Knights that they should offer this fish dinner every Friday of the year! I can’t for the life of me figure out why they shake their heads at me and mumble something under their breath.
Sadly, this year, there’s one critical element of the fish fry that’s an “imposed” penance: fasting from gathering together to enjoy the meal in-person. When the Knights approached me several weeks ago to discuss the fish fries, we kicked around the idea of having socially distanced tables set up in the parish center. Then, reality set in. Even if we did that, there’s no way that our guests wouldn’t table hop, as that is so much a part of the fish fry experience. So, we went with the safest option: drive-thru service. It works, but it ain’t the same.
For me, fasting from in-person dining has been one of the hardest parts of COVID safety. I enjoy eating out, trying new restaurants or revisiting favorite haunts. And my favorite part is not even necessarily the food, but sharing that meal with friends and family.
In the past year, I can count on one finger the number of times I’ve eaten in-person in a restaurant. That’s right: once. It happened in mid-October when a friend from my days in Rome came through Kansas City with his wife on the way back to Milwaukee.
Being a big fan of celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich, he wanted to eat at Lidia’s restaurant in the Freight House district in Kansas City, Missouri. I made reservations for the outdoor patio and chose a table in the farthest corner, with the wind blowing away from me. Although we had a delightful time, I was nervous the whole evening — as I’ve not figured out a way to eat or drink with a mask on!
Honestly, though, fasting from peach cobbler or from in-person dining is lightweight compared to what the Lord says to Isaiah the prophet: “Is this not rather the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed? . . . Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own flesh?”
Wow! And if we (secretly) hope those Old Testament words don’t apply nowadays, Pope Francis sets us straight with his suggestions for Lent:
• Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
• Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
• Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
• Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
• Fast from worries and have trust in God.
• Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
• Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
• Fast from bitterness and fill your hearts with joy.
• Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
• Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
• Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.
Gee, my Lenten penances seem like baby steps. Much better to follow the advice of Isaiah and Pope Francis and truly start down that fast track to holiness.