Why you should give up meat for Lent

1. It’s traditional. Catholics nowadays have it pretty easy. We only have to fast two days out of the year, and only have to refrain from eating meat roughly 10 days out the year. That really is not very difficult at all. Prior to Vatican II, Catholics did not eat meat during Lent at all, and never on Fridays. Forgoing meat on these occasions brings you in line with many of the greatest saints and hundreds of years of tradition. Keep in mind that even though abstaining from meat on Fridays is no longer mandated, we are still expected to take on some penitential act on Fridays. So why not taking a pass on that burger?

2. It’s good for the environment. Americans eat a lot of meat, more than most other countries. Producing meat for consumption takes a lot of resources. The meat industry produces more greenhouse gases than transportation, and uses huge amounts of water. By reducing our meat consumption we can make more of our limited resources. According to journalist Michael Pollan, if everyone had one meatless day per week, it would be the equivalent of taking 20 million sedans off the road!

3. It reminds you of God. Lent is a penitential season leading up to Easter, and every Friday, because of Good Friday, is like a mini-lent. When we make a small sacrifice such as forgoing meat, we are reminded of the much larger sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross.

4. It’s healthy. Meat is delicious. It’s juicy, its tender, its savory, and it does provide valuable nutrients. But diets high in meat and animal products are correlated to higher rates of cancer and heart disease. I’m not advocating full on vegetarianism — mostly because I could never do it — but reducing your meat consumption periodically can make you healthier in the long run.

5. It makes you appreciate how easy we have it. Most people in the world use meat very sparingly because they can afford much less of it than we can. Meat is rare, and when it is used, much less of it is eaten. A 32 oz. porterhouse would probably wreck the digestive system of someone from the third world, but we take our decadence for granted. Enjoy your meat when you eat it, of course. But remember that others do not have it as easy.

6. It reminds us of our common heritage. Being a Catholic is a unique lot. On one hand, it has been the dominant religion that has shaped the West for the past 2000 years. On the other hand, our culture has become so secularized that unique Catholic customs are viewed as backward oddities. If Catholics hope to reclaim their heritage, they need to claim what makes them unique. This can include obscure devotions, bathtub Marian shrines, keeping holy water around, and, yes, periodically refraining from meat. Keep Catholicism weird!

7. It cultivates discipline and self-control. One issue that our culture grapples with is instant gratification. We want what we want, and we want it now. We want sex, and we want it now. We want food, fast internet, a good paying job, and just about anything else without having to work or wait for it. Small sacrifices add up, and when we can deny ourselves one small comfort, it can make us better, happier people.

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