Friday, February 19, 2021


    Why Isn’t Fish Considered Meat During Lent?

               The following information is being passed on to you as part of my new ongoing series.                    "Father Ron's Periodic Suspicious Spiritual Advice" 

According to Saint Thomas Aquinas, the meat/fish divide boiled down to sex, simplicity and farts.

For six Fridays each spring, Catholics observing Lent skip sirloin in favor of fish sticks and swap Big Macs for Filet-O-Fish. Why?

Legend has it that centuries ago a medieval pope with connections to Europe's fishing business banned red meat on Fridays to give his buddies' industry a boost. But that story isn't true. Sunday school teachers have a more theological answer: Jesus fasted for 40 days and died on a Friday. Catholics honor both occasions by making a small sacrifice: avoiding animal flesh one day out of the week. That explanation is dandy for a homily, but it doesn't explain why only red meat and poultry are targeted and seafood is fine.

For centuries, the reason evolved with the fast. In the beginning, some worshippers only ate bread. But by the Middle Ages, they were avoiding meat, eggs, and dairy. By the 13th century, the meat-fish divide was firmly established—and Saint Thomas Aquinas gave a lovely answer explaining why: sex, simplicity, and farts.

In Part II of his Summa Theologica, Aquinas wrote:

"Fasting was instituted by the Church in order to bridle the concupiscences of the flesh, which regard pleasures of touch in connection with food and sex. Wherefore the Church forbade those who fast to partake of those foods which both afford most pleasure to the palate, and besides are a very great incentive to lust. Such are the flesh of animals that take their rest on the earth, and of those that breathe the air and their products."

Put differently, Aquinas thought fellow Catholics should abstain from eating land-locked animals because they were too darn tasty. Lent was a time for simplicity, and he suggested that everyone tone it down. It makes sense. In the 1200s, meat was a luxury. Eating something as decadent as beef was no way to celebrate a holiday centered on modesty. But Aquinas had another reason, too: He believed meat made you horny.

"For, since such like animals are more like man in body, they afford greater pleasure as food, and greater nourishment to the human body, so that from their consumption there results a greater surplus available for seminal matter, which when abundant becomes a great incentive to lust. Hence the Church has bidden those who fast to abstain especially from these foods."

There you have it. You can now blame those impure thoughts on a beef patty. (Aquinas might have had it backwards though. According to the American Dietetic Association, red meat doesn't boost "seminal matter." Men trying to increase their sperm count are generally advised to cut back on meat. However, red meat does improve testosterone levels, so it's give-and-take.)

Aquinas gave a third reason to avoid meat: it won't give you gas. "Those who fast," Aquinas wrote, "are forbidden the use of flesh meat rather than of wine or vegetables, which are flatulent foods." Aquinas argued that "flatulent foods" gave your "vital spirit" a quick pick-me-up. Meat, on the other hand, boosts the body's long-lasting, lustful humors—a religious no-no.

But Why Isn't Fish Considered Meat?

The reason is foggy. Saint Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, for one, has been used to justify fasting rules. Paul wrote, " … There is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fish, and another of birds" (15:39). That distinction was possibly taken from Judaism's own dietary restrictions, which separates fleishig (which includes land-locked mammals and fowl) from pareve (which includes fish). Neither the Torah, Talmud, or New Testament clearly explains the rationale behind the divide.

It's arbitrary, anyway. In the 17th century, the Bishop of Quebec ruled that beavers were fish. In Latin America, it's OK to eat capybara, as the largest living rodent is apparently also a fish on Lenten Fridays. Churchgoers around Detroit can guiltlessly munch on muskrat every Friday. And in 2010, the Archbishop of New Orleans gave alligator the thumbs up when he declared, “Alligator is considered in the fish family."

Thanks to King Henry VIII and Martin Luther, Protestants don't have to worry about their diet. When Henry ruled, fish was one of England's most popular dishes. But when the Church refused to grant the King a divorce, he broke from the Church. Consuming fish became a pro-Catholic political statement. Anglicans and the King's sympathizers made it a point to eat meat on Fridays. Around that same time, Martin Luther declared that fasting was up to the individual, not the Church. Those attitudes hurt England's fishing industry so much that, in 1547, Henry's son King Edward VI—who was just 10 at the time—tried to reinstate the fast to improve the country's fishing economy. Some Anglicans picked the practice back up, but Protestants—who were strongest in Continental Europe—didn't need to take the bait.


Wednesday, February 17, 2021


Return to the Lord, your God, for gracious and merciful

                  is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.                                                         

  Joel 2


You can learn a lot from bumper stickers. What makes many of them funny is their ability to summarize an idea in the fewest of words. There is one that continues to stand out in my mind. It summarizes one of the major themes of fundamentalism pretty much this way, “Jesus is coming soon and man is he angry!”

What makes it funny is that it does nail a popular fundamentalist religious belief that God is constantly irritated at us and would love to fry our little butts in hellfire the first chance he gets! I believe that people who perpetuate this “just wait till your daddy gets home” brand of religion do not actually love the God they believe in! They obey him and preach obedience to him because they are, themselves, actually scared to death of him.  They need to listen to the Prophet Joel, 

Return to the Lord, your God, for gracious and merciful

is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in


When these people get a hold of Lent, they turn it into a season of self-punishment because they believe that God wants to see us pay for our sins. They talk a lot about God’s justice meaning that, sooner or later, we are all going to get what we deserve. Lent, for them, is a time to make deposits into our suffering account. In other words, the more you suffer here, the less you will have to do later! The fact of the matter is, as Joel teaches us today God is gracious and God is merciful. Grace is when God gives us what we don’t deserve. Mercy is when God doesn’t give us what we do deserve.  

I no longer live out of that theology of fear, even though I was raised on it in my early years. That is not the God I believe in today. Over the years, I have gradually come to a deeper understanding, I believe, of just how loving God really is! For over fifty years, I have read the Scriptures and preached on them on an almost daily basis. When I speak to priests, I call preparation for preaching “wallowing in the Word.”  I have been changed by this saturation of Scripture. I have come to believe that God calls us to some to him, more for a hug, than for a scolding 

For that reason, Lent has gradually changed for me too! Rather than being a season where I deny and punish myself to make God feel better about me, Lent is a season where I get back on track so that I can again receive the wonderful things that God wants to give me. Lent is not a time to do things to get God to love me, Lent is a time to do things that will help me get myself to back in shape enough to receive more of the love that God wants to give me.  Lent is not for God’s benefit, but mine! Lent is not about placating an angry God, it is about getting a grip on myself to be more loving back to him! Lent is about making a course correction for my own happiness and holiness. God doesn’t need to change! I do! 

Return to the Lord, your God, for gracious and merciful is he,

slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in


The Church has given us three disciplines to help us during this season: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  Jesus refers to all three of these disciplines in today’s gospel.  Note well that he is not condemning prayer, fasting and almsgiving, but defending them from those who were trivializing them by playing silly religious games with them. We have these readings every Ash Wednesday as a warning against religious hypocrisy.  The whole idea of Lent is internal change, not external shows of religiosity.

Lent is a time of prayer. It is special time for getting back into more intense personal prayer. To do that, we may decide to cut back on some recreation time for Lent, so that we might use that time for some quality time with God. For some of you, it is probably not a matter of praying more, but praying better. You give up that recreation time, not as self-punishment nor an effort to bribe God, but so that you can open yourself up more to the loving guidance of God. Better than giving up recreation time, some of you might think about using your recreation time as a time for more focused listening to others, than talking at them and trying to get them to listen to you! Now that is a true penance!

Lent is a time of fasting. It is a special time for getting back into self-discipline. To do that, we may have to cut back on our wasteful and excessive eating, drinking and consuming habits. We give up spending, meat and sweets, not as self-punishment nor an effort to bribe God, but so that you can focus more on appreciating these good things that we normally take for granted, hoard for ourselves or abuse.   

Lent is a time of almsgiving. It is a special time for making ourselves aware of the needs of our brothers and sisters. To do that, we may have to consume less so that others can have more. Again, we give up things, not as self-punishment nor an effort to bribe God, and certainly not as a way to lose a few pounds or to hoard them back for our future needs, but so that those resources can go to those who are without food and the necessities of life.  Fasting and almsgiving are ways to live more simply so that others can simply live.

The disciplines of Lent, then, are not meant to be efforts to punish ourselves nor to be efforts to bribe God to be merciful, but the means to make us more aware of those with whom we are in relation - God and each other.  The spiritual disciples of Lent are meant to shake us out of our routines so that we can refocus on our paths as disciples of Jesus and on a right relationship with our suffering brothers and sisters. We engage in these practices, not for God’s good, but for our own good. They are really meant to be catalysts for an internal change within our own hearts. Remember this! God does not need our little Lenten disciplines! We do!





















Monday, February 15, 2021


 Random Post-Panic Pandemic Reflections


The Advantages of Old Age

At seventy-six I don't feel that old, but every day it seems that there is some kind of reminder that makes me face reality. I remember how insulted I was when I got an AARP card in the mail when I turned 50.  Twenty-seven years ago, I was in line ordering breakfast at McDonald's when the young woman behind the counter asked, "Would you like the "senior coffee" with that? Boiling inside, I told her as politely as I could, "Absolutely not! I want your regular coffee!" Things like that used to happen all the time in the dining room when I was working at Saint Meinrad Seminary. I would be talking about something that happened in the 1980s when I would be interrupted by one of the seminarians. "Father! We weren't even born yet!"  Even now, when I go get my haircut at one of those barbershops where young guys go, I realize I absolutely hate all their music no matter how many different stations they tune into! 

Another aggravation of being old is trying to keep up with your doctors: optometrist, dentist (regular and endodontist), dermatologist, internist and a whole slew of "specialist" (urologists. gastroenterologists, hematologists and radiologists to name a few. It drives me to hum the old kids song, "Dry Bones." "The toe bone connected to the heel bone, the heel bone connected to the foot bone, the foot bone connected to the leg bone, the leg bone connected to the knee bone, the knee bone connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone connected to the back bone, the back bone connected to the neck bone, the neck bone connected to the head bone, Oh, hear the word of the Lord!"

I don't mind going to regular appointments, but I hate like hell filling out those clipboard forms that ask the same old questions over and over again: name address, phone number, e-mail address, etc. I have threatened to get a gigantic 8 X 10 rubber stamp with all the information on it and a big stamp pad with red ink to take with me to the next appointment!  

    However, yes however, there are some certain advantages to being seventy-seven! Let me start with the latest thing. I got my second  COVID vaccination two days ago! I am "over the moon" with excitement, as my friend in Ireland says! I know I still have to "be careful," but I don't have to be "paranoid" about being near other people! This certainly beats the hell out of free "senior coffee" with my McDonald's sausage and biscuit!  Yes, I had a little reaction (feeling tired and achy) for a day and a half, but I am as happy as a pig in mud! I wanted to kiss that needle in my arm!

    Another advantage of old age is getting that Social Security check deposited each month. Even though it was money I paid into the fund, it feels like the "gift that keeps on giving" if you don't think about it too much! (Most people don't know that priests pay the full Social Security tax. It is not split 50% - 50% with the parish or diocese as is done between typical employers and employees. Believe it or not, priest are considered "self-employed" as far as Social Security! I'd love to get my hands on the guy who came up with that bright idea! I used to complain to the Chancery that if we are "self-employed," why can't we set our own salaries?)

    As an old retired priest, another advantage of being old and retired is that you don't have to pretend you like everybody you didn't really like when you were a pastor of a parish!  You can ignore them and get away with it! Along with that, you don't have to sit through long tedious meetings with endless reports, pretending to be interested in things like grade school football and whether the price of raffle tickets should be raised. Additionally, you can sleep in when you feel like it or go to bed as early or as late as you want without having to explain it in the parish bulletin. 

    You can eat what you want when you want, answer the phone when you want and ignore the doorbell when you want. Last of all, you can post how you really feel on your own blog without having to apologize if someone is offended and threatens to withhold their contributions to the church! 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I am free at last!' 

    Sunday, February 14, 2021


    There's Healing in the Power of Touch

    A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said,
    “If you wish, you can make me clean.”
    Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand,
    touched him and said to him, “I do will it.
    Be made clean.”

    What Jesus did in the gospel today was absolutely forbidden and against the law in his day and in his culture, but that didn't stop him. Let me count the ways. First, he let a leper approach him. Forbidden! Second, he let a leper speak to him. Forbidden! Third, he stretched out his hand and touched him - yes, touched him! Absolutely forbidden! Fourth, he spoke to the leper! Again, forbidden!

    Leprosy, at the time of Jesus, was considered a curse from God for some past sin! This disease made them profoundly impure, not only socially, but also spiritually. To be declared unclean because of leprosy meant that the unfortunate person had to tear his clothes and put a covering upon his upper lip and cry, "unclean, unclean." (Today, he would probably be wearing a COVID mask!) Since the Jews were concerned that the condition was contagious, such individuals were forced to to live separated on the outskirts of town, often in cemeteries. Ostracized from the community, they were left homeless, left to scavenge for food and to do without the support structure of family and friends. They were forbidden to have any contact with people who did not have the disease and they had to ring a bell and shout “unclean” if anyone approached them.

    Even in approaching Jesus, the leper was in violation of Levitical law. In touching the leper, Jesus also defied Levitical law. The poor leper had probably been cut off from the experience of human touch for an extended period of time. Jesus profoundly understood the spiritual, psychological and physical healing power of touch. That's why Jesus reached out and touched the poor leper. Maybe the poor leper had not experienced the touch of another human being for years. In his healing miracles, Jesus could have healed people by simply waving his hand over them. However, because he understood the power of touch, Jesus routinely laid his hands on the sick, touching their eyes, ears and even their tongues. Then there is the story of people bringing their children to him so that he might touch them. Children love to be held, patted and hugged. They were crawling all over him one one occasion when the disciples tried to beak it up. Jesus was not having it! He knew they needed to be held, hugged and patted on their heads, not just talked down to from a distance.

    I am reminded again today that human beings are wired to touch and be touched. When a child is born, that is how they bond with their mothers - through touch. Our wiring system has touch everywhere, so it’s difficult for us not to think about physical contact. Skin is the largest organ in the human body, covering us from head to toe. Our desire for physical contact starts at birth.

    “If a baby is born prematurely, the baby is often placed in the neonatal intensive care unit, but the mother is still asked to go into the unit a few times a day to hold her baby and put her baby on her chest, even if her baby is not breastfeeding,” When I was pastor here at the Cathedral, I was "chaplain on call" at Norton Children's Hospital down the street. I remember going to the neonatal intensive care unit to baptize little "preemies" with an eye dropper filled with water. I would see mothers holding their sick babies. We even had a nun here as a Cathedral parishioner who volunteered regularly at Children's Hospital and Home of the Innocents just to hold sick babies. We know that this bonding, this human-to-human touch, is important for the growth of those children.

    Even as adults, touch helps regulate our digestion and sleep, and even boosts our immune systems. Hugging can also help our bodies fight off infections. When physical contact becomes limited or eliminated, people can develop a condition called "touch starvation" or "touch deprivation." "Touch starvation" increases stress, depression and anxiety, triggering a cascade of negative physiological effects. The body releases the hormone cortisol as a response to stress. This can increase heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and muscle tension, and can suppress the digestive and immune systems, increasing the risk of infection. People who are stressed or depressed, perhaps because of a lack of touch, have problems sleeping.

    When we hug or feel a friendly touch on our skin, our brains release a neuropeptide involved in increasing positive, feel-good sensations of trust, emotional bonding and social connection, while decreasing fear and anxiety responses in the brain at the same time. For this reason, that particular neuropeptide is affectionately known as the “cuddle hormone.” I witnessed this back in my "marriage preparation" days. On this Valentine's Day, I am reminded of those young couples who would come into the rectory, and while they were sitting on the couch and I was trying to make a few points, I usually gave up. They were not paying attention to a damned thing I was saying. They were too involved in pawing each other right there in front of me! They may not have been interested in exploring the theology of marriage, but they were certainly interested in exploring the power of touch!

    Years ago, realizing that Jesus knew the healing power of touch, I adopted the practice of having the whole family, not just me, lay hands on the sick person and pray silently when I was called to celebrate the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick in their home or at the hospital. It was a powerfully moving experience for the sick person, for the family of the sick person and for me, as we all laid hands on the person I was about to anoint, praying silently. The feeling of holy oil being rubbed on the head and hands of the sick person was another powerful moment of touch for the sick person and for this priest!

    I can still remember feeling the hands of the bishop and all the priests of the Diocese, one by one, being laid on my head when I was ordained. I could almost feel power being passed from them, through their touching hands, into me as a new priest. I can also still remember the feeling and the smell of the chrism oil being rubbed on the palms of my hands by the bishop at my ordination as a priest.

    The power of touch, I believe, is also obvious in the Catholic practice of keeping the relics of saints for veneration. Being able to touch a piece of their bones, a hair from their heads or maybe a piece of their clothes, brings them closer than just simply reading about them or looking at their images.

    In fact, we Catholics are very much involved in the power of touch in our worship services. While our Protestant brothers and sisters are mostly cerebral - listening, reading, speaking and singing - we are mostly touchy-feely - holy water, candles, holy oils, kissing the altar, kissing the cross on Good Friday, waving palms, statues, relics, rosaries, crucifixes, genuflecting, bread, robes, incense, processions, wine, ashes, standing, sitting, kneeling and, until recently, the sign of peace.

    Speaking of the power of touch, one of the saddest things about the COVID pandemic is what it is doing to our oldest family members, especially those in nursing homes. I volunteer at the Little Sisters of the Poor so I hear about it. Touching is regarded as a special type of non-verbal communication and is perhaps the most powerful sense of all, especially for older persons and persons living with dementia. No one can deny the warm feeling we experience when we are touched. Hugs, holding hands and other physical gestures of affection have the potential to ease our fears, make us feel less isolated, and reduce stress and anxiety. However, during this global pandemic, we have all been ruthlessly reminded of the significance of not being able to hug the ones we love or be close to our dearest friends. Many have spent weeks and months with no physical contact with another person and have really experienced how a lack of touch can affect overall wellbeing. I believe older persons living in care homes have experienced this more than most of us. There is no doubt that residents are missing loved ones, sad that they can only wave to their grandchildren through the window or on a laptop screen. The absence of touch is having devastating affects on those in nursing homes. I am so happy that they are the first to get the new vaccinations. Maybe they will live to feel the healing power of touch again someday soon, God willing!



    Yolanda Adams