It’s the last Friday of Lent, and my discipline of giving up meat is getting a little old. There are only so many ways that I can fix fish, eggs and pasta without feeling an intense need for a steak. I realize that a good many cultures subsist very happily in vegetarian, even vegan, diets. I am just not among those who find release in veggies, which is why it’s a penance, no matter how good the fish is—and some of mine is excellent.
Aside from the penitential aspects of giving up meat, it also reminds me of the potential of Catholics to fight for social justice.
What? Has the poor woman finally lost her mind from protein deficiency? No, indeed. If you want a measure of the potential of Catholics to make a difference—a real and lasting difference—in this world by living their faith on a daily basis even in a simple way, just go to McDonald’s and order a filet-o-fish.
The short version of the story goes like this. In pre-Vatican II days, there was a McDonald’s franchise owner in a heavily Catholic section of Cincinnati. On Fridays, his business disappeared because there was no meatless alternative on the menu. He proposed his fish sandwich to Ray Kroc, who, in a rare moment of marketing ineptitude, had been developing his own meatless alternative, a grilled pineapple slice on a bun—proving that even geniuses strike out now and again. Kroc agreed to test market the fish sandwich against his pineapple “burger”, and the rest is history. The filet-o-fish was an instant success, the franchise was saved, even though the inventor of the sandwich got not a cent for developing it, and the filet-o-fish remains on the menu to this day. All because Catholics lived their faith. All because they were obedient to what the Church asked them to do to help them grow in the understanding and love of Christ.
There are 65 million Catholics in America. Imagine if we lived, really lived, our faith like they did.
It all starts I think, with demanding respect for life. Common sense, as well as the Bishops, in a convergence that ought to give double power to the thought, dictate that without the right to life, no other rights matter. Imagine if 65 million Catholics told politicians by their votes that support of life issues is a pre-requisite for getting Catholic votes. Imagine if they offered their homes, their hands, their pocketbooks to give real alternatives to women who see no choice but to have an abortion because they just can’t see a way to survive otherwise, or who have never given any thought to the idea that there is an alternative.
Imagine if 65 million Catholics banded together in parishes to help out young families with the faith to live out the call to life with families today's world considers inappropriately large, offering help so that young mothers could concentrate on raising their families rather than bringing in another paycheck.
Imagine if 65 million Catholics spent as much to support Catholic schools and Catholic journalism as they do on movies, cable TV, pizza, the Internet, greens fees or iTunes.
Imagine if 65 million Catholics suddenly stopped watching TV shows and movies and listening to songs that glorify extra-marital sex and gratuitous violence and filthy language.
Imagine if 65 million Catholics stopped buying gossip magazines.
Imagine if 65 million Catholics started protesting when the media portrays their faith and their spiritual leaders as stupid, callous, duped or wicked.
Imagine if 65 million Catholics started praying daily, vocally with their families.
Imagine if 65 million Catholics gave the cost of one meal a week to Catholic Charities.
Imagine if 65 million Catholics adopted a lonely, sick, destitute, elderly, or homeless person and helped out once in a while with a hot meal, an hour of conversation, chores around the house.
I’m as guilty as any. Lent will be over in a week, and it will be time to put into action what I’ve learned while contemplating all those missing steaks. I can’t do it all, but I can do something more. I’ll be taking my own suggestions and finding some new ways to take my faith into my world. I want people to see by the way I live that I think differently, act differently, live differently, and hope differently because I follow Jesus.
And today, I’ll have a filet-o-fish for lunch.