by Father Mark Goldasich
Every Friday of Lent, I say the same thing to them: “This is not a penance.”
The “them” are the Knights of Columbus who take over the parish kitchen for fish fries. I’d venture to say that, across the archdiocese, if you love fish or shrimp, attending fish fries can hardly be counted as a penitential discipline. In fact, the only suffering that’s attached to the fish fries for me comes directly afterwards when I’m leading the Stations of the Cross. Having partaken liberally of the menu offerings — some might crudely say, “stuffed myself” — makes my frequent genuflections associated with the Stations a mighty big challenge.
Each year at the last fish fry, it’s become my tradition to remark to the Knights, “Gee, these fish fries have been so tasty and fun, how about continuing them year-round?” If looks could kill . . .
In this week’s paper, Leaven staffer Todd Habiger takes us to one of the most famous and unusual fish fries in the archdiocese, the one hosted by St. Joseph Parish in Nortonville. I don’t know of any other group that uses a converted school bus to prepare the fish, nor can any other parish say that they double the town’s population — and then some — each Friday evening of Lent.
St. Joseph’s fish fry highlights what’s true at every Lenten meal offered throughout the archdiocese: Without an incredible amount of teamwork, dedication and perspiration, we wouldn’t have these delicious meals to enjoy.
I find all these hard workers inspirational. Why? I’ll let Kevin Miller, the senior pastor at Church of the Savior in Wheaton, Illinois, explain through this story about a fishing trip he took with his father when he was 11 years old:
Father, son, canoe, water, fish, pines — this was boyhood heaven. I desperately wanted to show Dad I was worthy of the confidence he had placed in me by inviting me on this trip.
Two nights later, I awoke, painfully sick to my stomach. I feared I might throw up. I needed to get to the bathroom now. But the cabin was cold and dark, and I would have to climb out of my warm top bunk. Suddenly, I threw up over the side of the bunk.
My dad . . . came running in, flicked on the light and surveyed the spreading mess. “Couldn’t you have gotten to the bathroom?” he asked.
“I’m sorry,” I said, knowing I deserved every angry comment that would come.
But my dad didn’t yell. He didn’t call me names. He shook his head a little, then left and came back with a bucket of sudsy hot water and a scrub brush. I watched, amazed, as he got on hands and knees and began scrubbing each pine board clean again.
As Christians, we face many awful and embarrassing messes. But Jesus has already shown us what we must do in that situation: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (Jn 13:14). (Adapted from “Leaders Mop Floors,” found in “Perfect Illustrations for Every Topic and Occasion,” edited by Craig Brian Larson and Drew Zahn.)
OK, I guess I should have come up with a better story because I don’t mean to imply that the Lenten fish fries make us sick! My point is that real leaders are, first and foremost, servants. Leaders provide a positive example to others — not by lording over others, but by being willing to roll up their sleeves and pitch in whenever and wherever needed.
At parish fish fries, there’s no shortage of servants: those who prepare the fish beforehand, the folks who set up tables and chairs, the greeters, cashiers, cooks, the runners who deliver refills to the servers, the servers themselves, the people who provide the desserts, the tray collectors, dish washers and cleanup crew. These are not glorious jobs — and those who volunteer don’t do it for glory. They do it for the love of Jesus and their parish. They are living examples of what Christian service looks like.
Please make plans to attend a fish fry somewhere during Lent and wear yourself out saying “thank you” to all the workers there. In the meantime, cast aside any hesitancy you might have and begin serving those around you . . . hook, line and sinker.