Ah, Lent, the season of preparing for Easter through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, denial of ego, and the parish fish fry.
Plenty of ink has been spilled on the parish fish fry and how it fits into this season of fasting and abstinence that we currently find ourselves in. Is the fish fry a good thing in Lent because it brings the community together and helps the faithful get through the always-challenging meatless Friday? Or, is it an excuse for Catholics to plunk down $25 for a family of six and go big with all-you-can-eat fried fish, drinks, and desserts, in stark contrast to the way we should be living out this penitential season?
While Catholics on both sides of this debate have argued back and forth on the topic down through the generations, I’m here to take the bravest stand of all: why not both?
Why can’t Lent be a penitential season of prayer, almsgiving, fasting, and self-denial as well as an opportunity to come together as a faith community and throw back seven fish tacos for a reasonable price?
To answer your question, yes, I did eat seven fish tacos at our parish’s most recent fish fry, and no, I am not brimming with that good ol’ fashioned Catholic guilt you always hear about because I left the parish hall with a full belly (also, in all fairness, some of those tacos were ones my kids tasted and decided not to eat, and I think Catholic teaching is clearly on my side that it was my duty as a father to finish that food rather than let it go to waste; to put it to waist instead of to waste, if you will).
Just because I haven’t come down with an overwhelming case of Catholic guilt, however, doesn’t mean I haven’t been at least a tiny bit curious if my seven fish tacos fit the criteria for the capital sin of gluttony. So, as any good Catholic would do, I turned to the Catholic Encyclopedia and its reference of the Angelic Doctor himself to settle the topic in my mind once and for all. Do I need to stop by confession on my way to the next fish fry or can I forge bravely onward with a clear mind and conscience to set the record for most fish tacos eaten in a single Lenten season?
“It is incontrovertible that to eat or drink for the mere pleasure of the experience, and for that exclusively, is likewise to commit the sin of gluttony.”
To be fair, I’m cherry picking a bit here. In the totality of his breakdown, Saint Thomas Aquinas addresses five ways in which the sin of gluttony may be committed: "Prae-propere, laute, nimis, ardenter, studiose.” In today’s terms (as broken down by Father Joseph Rickably, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia): “too soon, too expensively, too much, too eagerly, too daintily.”
Allow me to make a defense for myself and my seven fish tacos, even as I continue to claim to not be overcome with Catholic guilt (which is slowly proving to be a lie as this piece moves on):
Did I eat seven fish tacos (in addition to two servings of rice and one serving of beans, if I’m being completely honest with you) for the mere pleasure of the experience? No. I sat and ate at the parish fish fry for the experience of community building, engaging myself and my family in parish life outside of Sunday Mass, and (perhaps most importantly) to show off our newborn baby to anyone interested in telling me how cute he was.
Check. So far, so good. Now on to the five-fold criteria.
Too soon? Well, with four kids in the house, we certainly didn’t get to the fish fry early. I was hungry hours before showing up to the fish fry. So, I think I’m good here.
Too expensively? Certainly not! Where else could you feed a family of six for $25? And, the money went to the charitably-minded Knights of Columbus, so it’s a win-win.
Too much? This one’s a bit of a toss up. Are seven fish tacos too much for one man? Perhaps. But have you ever tried to keep up with four kids age nine and under? They are always going, and I think it’s only fair to expect that a man of my stature may reasonably require seven fish tacos if there was any hope of making it through the bedtime routine after the fish fry was over.
Too eagerly? I promise, I reluctantly ate the fish tacos off of my kids’ plates after they said they were full. It isn’t something I do for fun; it’s an integral part of my vocation.
Too daintily? I had to look into this one a bit. Initially, I pictured that the objection was something along the lines of holding out one’s pinky finger while drinking a cup of tea, but that couldn’t be right. In his Summa Theologica (Question 148, Objection 3), Aquinas expands on the idea of eating too daintily to see it as seeking food that is prepared too nicely or perhaps better explained as, seeking food that is elaborately prepared. While the food was absolutely delicious — and the Knights of Columbus volunteers in the kitchen obviously took the time to prepare this meal with the utmost respect and skill — looking back in that kitchen I would not use the word dainty to describe it.
With all that in mind, I’m here to say, “My name is Tommy, I ate seven fish tacos last Friday, and despite what you may believe, I am not a glutton.”
Well… I mean… I wasn’t on that Friday night… As for the rest of my life, we’ll have to wait and see.
Tommy Tighe is a Catholic husband and father of five boys. You can find out more about him at CatholicHipster.com.