Friday, March 17, 2017

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Or, why Catholics can't have nice things

A little St. Patrick's treat at our house today. Yes, it's still Lent.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day! Or, as it's called on the Internet, "Happy day my bishop did/did not grant our diocese a dispensation so we could have meat on a Lenten Friday and why I am/am not happy about it."


In our diocese of Fort Worth the bishop did grant a dispensation--the cathedral here is St. Patrick's and there are plenty of Irish-Americans in the diocese, so the dispensation seems like a wise pastoral move. We still had meatless pasta tonight because that's what I had planned, but we weren't being smug about it. I don't have a problem with my fellow Catholics happily eating corned beef and cabbage or even a steak tonight, provided they live in a diocese under a similar dispensation. And, obviously, I don't have a problem with Catholics choosing to abstain from meat voluntarily, whether from spiritual or housekeeping motivations, either.

What I do have a problem with are the fights between the people who sigh and roll their eyes so hard their keyboards break over these weak bishops granting (and weak Catholics gleefully accepting) a dispensation from one of only a handful of Fridays in the year when American Catholics are even obliged to abstain from meat on the one hand, and the people who act like a dispensation is a Holy Meat-Order of Obligation such that choosing not to eat meat anyway amounts to some kind of scrupulous Pharisaical pride that is more dangerous to the soul than eating a hamburger on Good Friday or something on the other.

You see, it's not good enough for some of the avid abstainers that they can still choose to abstain from meat during a dispensation anyway; they have to malign the people who are taking advantage of the dispensation and cast aspersions on the episcopal authorities who grant them. And it's not enough for some of the happily dispensed that they get to have meat today if they want it; they have to insist that anybody under a dispensation who chooses to stay meatless today must obviously be a holier-than-thou sort who should be held up to ridicule for not having a proper Irish feast (even if they are not Irish at all). We can't just be happy for each other and happy for the Church on this feast of this great saint, because that would stem the outrage and stop the gossip and stanch the bleeding from the circular firing squad wounds, but we can't have that. And this is why Catholics can't have nice things.

It's true: whenever you find Catholics online having minor disagreements about liturgical matters or Catholic customs or modes of (morally acceptable) living or politics--dear heavens, the politics--you will find people on both sides of any such issue bristling with outrage and certain that their way is the one right and proper Catholic way, and that everybody else is doing it all wrong. Charity goes out the window; brotherhood takes a flying leap from a parapet; civility walks the plank, and patience, prudence, and propriety plummet into the icy waters of discord and disdain. Instead of building each other up for the sake of the Kingdom, we all--and I include myself--seem more interested in a bit of recreational shredding not only of ideas, but of the people who hold them as well. We may dress it up in fancy language, but a lot of our Internet internecine debates are every bit as silly as arguing over whether Bishop Thusandso really ought to have let the rabble have corned beef today, or whether Catholic Neighbor A isn't being more Catholic than the pope in choosing to eat grilled cheese instead.

We can do better than this, and we owe it to saints like St. Patrick to try.