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March 22, 2017

Lenten reflection, day 22

“Jesus said to his disciples: Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

When I was growing up, one of the strictest laws of the Catholic Church seemed to be the one about not eating meat on Fridays. If I had been about to bite into a hot dog at a ballgame and a friend had said, “Hey, it’s Friday,” I would have dropped the hot dog as if it were a hot iron.

As part of the renewal of Vatican II, the Friday abstinence law was modified and is no longer mandatory. But the Church continues to teach that a Catholic should do some act of penance on Fridays throughout the year in memory of the death of Jesus on the cross. Abstinence from meat is one of the recommendations. I must confess that as a pastor, I often forget this practice myself and rarely remind my parishioners of it. 

I think this is a challenge for many of us. We do what we are obligated to do by our faith, such as go to Mass on Sunday and abstain from meat during Lent, but do we realize those things are only minimum requirements? 

Rules and laws are important because they get us to take first steps. But when we truly know how much God loves us—as we ponder the mystery and wonder of the suffering and death of Our Lord Jesus—we are called to respond, not because we must but because we freely choose to love God and to respond with generous hearts. 

Father Patrick Woods, C.Ss.R.
Bethpage, N.Y.

Scripture readings for today: Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9; Psalm 147; Matthew 5:17-19 



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