My adopted religion, or at least the ultra-liberal version to which I adhere, requires certain sacrifices. But I just don’t like to make them. In a way, that makes the rare fasting days, like Good Friday, a good test case for Catholic Spirituality. A more pious person would welcome the chance to deny himself something. A less credulous one would dispense with hardship entirely. My own solution, perfected after many years of not trying, is to embrace the letter of the observance, while violating its spirit in every way. This works pretty well for me.
Why? Because, as Hal Holbrook says in Magnum Force, "a man’s got to know his limitations." My outsized, gluttony-based persona is barely an exaggeration of the spiritual sickness inside. I truly am Mr. Cutlets! And though bound for a pauper’s grave in Potter’s Field, I am living it up right now, hip-deep in steaks and chops. Asceticism is as alien to me as water-breathing. So the call to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, though solemn and inescapable, falls far more heavily on me than on the ordinary Catholic layperson. Of course, thanks to the one-time-only progressive reform of Vatican II, the fast isn’t as bad as it used to be. Now, one meal is allowed, albeit without meat; and two snacks, if you find yourself getting distracted. Good news for the soft and secular! But even so it’s tough going.
Especially the meat part. As I wrote in my book, the rarely-read Meat Me In Manhattan, "meat is the morning and the evening star. It is a sausage at sunrise, a sandwich at noon, and a steak late at night...." Sad stuff, you might say, for a person who aspires to Godliness. Sausages at sunrise! As Dr. Johnson once wrote to himself, "this is not the life to which Heaven is promised." But Meat Me in Manhattan is strictly honest, even when it is less than accurate, and my sentiments are what they are. I get around them on Good Friday by usually preparing a single meal consisting of, say
One pound of milky mozzarella, sliced
One large bowl of gnocchi with pesto
hash browned potatoes
Two grilled-cheese sandwiches slathered with tub butter
Double-chocolate Fox’s U-bet milk, made with organic whole milk
This year my Good Friday meal was strangely spartan – it amounted just to my daily writing meal of a toasted bialy with melted american cheese and a shmear of Happy Boy margarine. Perhaps it was the whole Provigil I swallowed early in the day. Are appetite supressants allowed on fast days? If so, bring on the fast days! Escaping my own perverted appetites might, on balance, be even sweeter than the pleasure of wrangling out of my religious obligations. Even so, I’m pretty sure a fast day is better when you’re hungry, just as a man might be called a more faithful husband for staying true as a casting talent on a Girls Gone Wild shoot than (say) as an attendant in a burn ward.
As for me, I know what I’m capable of. Wide is the path, and narrow the gate! But even a narrow path is a hazard when lined with brightly-lit refrigerator cases.