Saturday, February 20, 2010

Lent in New Bedford.

Our Lady in New Bedford (source).

Yesterday my hometown newspaper took a look at how some locals are observing Lent:
They may not attend Mass every Sunday, read the Scriptures or pray very often, but even for many nominal Catholics, abstaining from meat on Fridays or "giving something up" for Lent remains a part of their identity.

"Growing up with that, it's a hard thing to unlearn," said Scott Charbonneau, 43, of New Bedford. He described himself as a non-practicing Catholic but said he will not eat meat on Fridays between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.

"It's something that's been with me from my upbringing more than anything else. That's one of those cardinal rules."

. . .

A March 2008 survey conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University found that 60 percent of all Catholics - devout and lapsed - abstain from meat on Fridays. The survey also indicated that 45 percent typically attend Mass on Ash Wednesday and 38 percent "give up" something.

Jessica Fernandes, 31, of New Bedford gave up pork for Lent in 2002 and has not eaten pork chops or linguica since.

"It's tough. To this day, it still is," she said. "But it reminds me of what a huge sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. Oftentimes, we laugh about giving up chocolate and sodas, but they're such small sacrifices in the grand scheme of things."

The season's impact can be seen on local food businesses, which report a higher demand for seafood and non-meat products.

"We get a lot more people coming here and buying fish," said Alex Magalhaes, a manager at Amaral's Market on Belleville Avenue. In between answering a reporter's questions, he helped a customer with an order for salmon steaks.

"Lent impacts business in a good way for us," he said. "They spend more money."

Isaiah's Restaurant in downtown New Bedford stays open until 8 p.m. on Fridays during Lent.

"It actually helps boost sales," said Denise Worster, the owner. "People will come in after work for fish and chips. A lot of our customers look forward to it. The only thing is a lot of them give up dessert, so we don't sell a lot of those."

To read the rest, click here. Reading this article confirmed my long-held belief that Friday abstinence is as much a cultural practice as a religious one. That such practices can survive even after faith dims bears witness to the truth that Catholicism is a culture as well as a religion. At the risk of being somewhat provocative, I sometimes get the sense that "cultural Catholics" who don't actively practice the faith understand what Catholicism is about in a way that those who focus only on doctrine and ignore the role of culture simply do not.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that adherence to doctrine and regular practice don't matter. They matter a lot. What I do mean to suggest is that it would be wrong to dismiss as "bad Catholics" those who don't worship regularly but who nonetheless have maintained traditional Catholic practices such as Friday abstinence out of a sense that they are still part of an essentially Catholic culture. It strikes me that the resilience of such practices provides an opportunity for catechesis and, perhaps, for spiritual revival. If one still has a sense that one shouldn't eat meat on Lenten Fridays out of respect for one's Catholic upbringing, one may be led to consider whether the faith that shaped that upbringing is worth embracing in a new and deeper way.

Those of us who seek to serve the Church in an ever-more secular society must be careful not to snuff out the embers of faith that still burn in the hearts of apparently "lapsed" Catholics for whom religion is as much a matter of culture as of belief. To emphasize creed and doctrine while dismissing or ignoring the cultural aspects of faith is to open the door to an even more pervasive form of secularization. On the contrary, we who care about the future of the Church should be alert to the ways in which we might help bring about a renaissance of faith in places where the identification between religion and culture remains strong. My hope and prayer is that we may find the courage and creativity to rise to this challenge. AMDG.


At 2/23/2010 10:41 AM, Blogger Old Heightsonian said...

What a beautiful reflection, and how true. Thank you for it--and thanks to God for your own courage and creativity in vocation and this blog.


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