Friday, September 23, 2005


When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread.

Call me old fashioned, but I don't eat meat on Friday. Although Catholics in the United States were excused from the age-old restriction on eating flesh meat on Fridays as long ago as 1967, and the 1983 Code of Canon Law (can. 1251) requires only that some kind of food be given up on Fridays, for me it is a sign of connectedness to the millions who have gone before me in the faith to try to do what they did--to belong to their Communion. So I stick to the old rule of abstinence.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

The outward sign of unity with earlier generations is only one of the merits of this kind of abstinence--a happy side effect is that it encourages folks to eat more fish, which is good for their health. But therein lies a tale of woe for your humble, but gluttonous, narrator. Last year a Japanese restaurant opened here in Athens, the Happy Kobe, and they specialize in sushi. I've always been a fan of sushi, but this was the best sushi I'd ever tasted. I've never been to Japan, so maybe I would have a different opinion of the Happy Kobe's sushi if I'd ever had the real thing, but I have eaten sushi in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, London, and Paris, so come on, toss me a freakin' bone.

No one can serve two masters.

The sad news was that the Happy Kobe closed for the summer months, making for an Unhappy Scottie. I waited patiently for the doors to re-open on the advertised date, September 15. When the fall term here began I was almost literally drooling as I counted the days. On the 15th I almost ran from my office over to the Happy Kobe, only to see a sign announcing that the opening had been delayed until the next day. Oh well, I thought, better late than never. So I went back the next day. I had a faculty meeting at noon on the 16th, so I didn't get to the Happy Kobe until 1:15. But the Happy Kobe is only open until 2, and when I went in I was told that they were so swamped that they weren't taking any more order. Angry Scottie, but Patient Scottie, walked over to a coffee shop and had a cookie for lunch instead. Malnurished Scottie then spent the weekend waiting for another chance at bliss on the following Monday (no Happy Koby on the weekend).

Esau came in from the field and he was famished.

But on Monday a thought occurred to me. The daily Mass at my parish is at 12:15. Because of the serving hours of the Happy Kobe (11-2), there was really no way I could observe the Eucharistic fast, go to Mass, and then go to lunch at Happy Kobe with any sense of security that I would be enjoying sushi that day. I decided to skip Mass, even though I had originally planned to go. Immediately I was reminded of a passage of St. Thomas Aquinas that I had read just two days earlier, from the Disputed Question De malo. There Aquinas discusses the choice of Esau to give away his birthright for a meal, classifying the act as an instance of gluttony. And there I was, passing over a chance to participate at Mass in order to eat raw fish. I was going to be a glutton. I was doing it deliberately, too, so there wasn't to be any of that "Oh, was there a Mass today? Fancy that!" stuff.

He went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Of course, we are not obligated to assist at Mass on most Mondays, last Monday being one of them. So at least my skipping Mass in order to stuff my face was not a case of neglect of religious duty--irreverence. We face choices all the time, and it is not always the case that we are choosing between one course of action that is clearly and unambiguously good, the other clearly and unambiguously bad. Sometimes the choices we make are between things that are each of them good, and our choice reflects only the inclination of our heart towards one good rather than another.

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

This week my heart was inclined more towards the satisfaction of a physical desire than towards a chance to be with my Lord in the Sacrament, and that is very troubling to me, in retrospect. If only it had been more troubling to me in beforespect. I used to have a colleague who would not eat pork. I asked him if he was Jewish or a Muslim, and he said "No, I just think that everybody should deny themselves just one thing that they know they really like." Perhaps it would be worth denying myself the pleasure of eating sushi, as an exchange for the spiritual benefit of looking for satisfaction elsewhere.

While he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion.

Giving up sushi will be difficult for me--I may not be able to do it. I suppose another solution is to simply re-order my values, so that what happened on Monday doesn't happen again: to exercise the virtue called sôphrosunê by the Greeks--self-control. It's a start. I often think of the story of the prodigal son at times like this, and I contemplate the fact that the boy's father would not have seen him "while he was yet at a distance" unless the father had already been looking for him in that direction. It is a great comfort. It's worth a Mass.


djr said...

I never thought I'd be glad not to like sushi. ;-) You should probably be commended for your willingness to publicize your own failings. I certainly wouldn't be able to do so quite so painlessly as you apparently have. Then again, if the sushi is your biggest problem, then you're far better off than I am!

Have you noticed that one of the big players in the most recent Intelligent Design school controversy (this one in Dover, Penn.) is the Thomas More Law Center? Given your antipathy to ID and your love of the Saint, I imagine you'll appreciate the unintended irony of the situation.

Why can't the whole ID-in-schools thing be settled by drafting some sort of introductory set of essays dealing with ID's objections to Darwinism, the objections to the objections, and some articles that basically introduce students to the philosophy of science via a discussion of what does and does not count as 'science,' what kind of authority 'science' does and should have, etc. ? Given that ID has virtually no defenders within science proper, it has no place in a science classroom. But why not embrace the debate and spend one week of the school year, perhaps even outside of a biology class, discussing it rather than pretending that it doesn't exist? Are there good reasons why students shouldn't be exposed to the debate at all? Even a die-hard 'scientific' materialist could see the value of introducing students to the basic concepts of the philosophy of science, right? Or no?

A bit tangential, I know, but I'm trying to avoid reading Milman Parry for ten minutes...

Tom said...

Did you think about eating lunch before going to Mass? If you like to be connected to the millions who have gone before you in the faith, imagine how baffled most of them would be if you told them you couldn't eat for an hour before attending a ferial Mass.

Vitae Scrutator said...

I suppose many of them would have waited even longer. But I don't see how the fact that it is a ferial Mass is relevant: Canon 919 does not specify that the fast holds only on Sundays and Holy Days, but any time one receives the Most Holy Eucharist.

For me, though, the Eucharistic fast itself is somewhat independent of the tradition--it's more a matter of personal preparation than anything else. I take it that's why it has varied so over the centuries: different times and different cultures have understood different conditions as being appropriate for the preparatory period. Perhaps for some folks no preparation at all is necessary, but I'm not one of those folks.

For me, an hour's preparation seems to be about right, but the restaurant only opens at 11, so there's no time to eat, prepare, then go to Mass (it's a bit of a hike from the restaurant to the church).

There's also the problem of sitting in a small, confined space smelling of raw fish.

Tom said...

My point was that, for centuries, layfolk attended daily Mass without the thought of receiving Communion even crossing their minds.

You can go to Mass without fasting ahead of time, you know. You just can't receive Communion. It's not ideal, of course, but the Mass is still the Mass.

Vitae Scrutator said...

Maybe I just didn't make my point clearly enough--not a surprise, really, since I'm not particularly a stand-out essayist!

I was trying to draw a contrast between two kinds of meals, one a purely physical one, the other a purely spiritual one, and I was drawing attention to the fact that I chose to eat the physical one over the spiritual one. For me, the salient connection between the two meals is the mealishness of the two.

Now, if what I had done was chosen to, say, go see a movie, rather than attend a Mass without receiving Holy Communion, then I think your parallel would be spot on. I certainly agree that, as you put it, "the Mass is still the Mass", but I also agree with you that "it's not ideal" if one doesn't receive Communion. One is still "assisting" in some sense, but one is not fully participating.

But when you mix hack essay writing with inept and hackneyed theology, you get me. So I can't complain if my attempt to make an interesting connection didn't really do it for everybody.

Homily for Requiem Mass of Michael Carson, 20 November 2021

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