Thursday, February 7, 2008

Abstaining from meat

Here again is my (born-again) old schoolmate sending an email which challenges abstinence from meat. He challenges Catholic practices in our yahoogroups once in a while. Here he goes:

"This is what the new Code of Canon Law (which is binding to all Catholics only) brought out in 1983 says about eating meat on Fridays:

Canon 1251

Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Canon Law still requires that Catholics not eat meat on Fridays!

Don't you think this canon is so ridiculous, knowing that this was carried over from a pagan practice, and a direct violation of 1 Timothy 4:1-5 ! This is no longer interpretative but legalistic - legislating what the bible gives us freedom to do. The bible even calls it a doctrine of demons."


And here goes my reply:

Hi xxxx,

When I was younger I was likewise confused by this meat abstinence, because I loved seafood more than meat. If my intention was abstinence, and then lets say I ate lobster (yummy!) for example on Fridays instead of meat, indeed that would be ridiculous. Thus xxxx you have a point there, that is, IF your premise in reading that canon law is technically "legalistic" instead of spiritual. But Catholics don't read it that way.

Who was Paul referring to? In verse 3 of that passage he was referring to priests of an obscure religion who were then teaching that sex and certain foods are intrinsically evil. He refutes them in the next sentence by saying that everything God created is good...

Sex and all kinds of nutritious food are good, provided you use them according to the natural law. That is why it is fitting to give up some of these good things temporarily as a part of spiritual discipline. In the biblical times it is customary to rejoice through feasting on meat and wine, that is why meat is an example of a good which satisfies basic physical desire. Spiritual discipline involves mastering our physical desires. If meat is given up in that context, towards cultivating spiritual discipline, then we read the canon law correctly. You are likely aware that Daniel abstained for three weeks (Daniel 10:1-3). Certainly, he was not then practising the "doctrine of demons". And Paul was certainly not against abstaining from meat (1 Cor 8:13), what he was against was a false doctrine that says there is an intrinsic evil in a good that God made.

- Willy

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