Lights of St. Patricks
Lights of St. Patricks

No, no, no! This all wrong.

As previously discussed here, the spiritual sacrifice of giving up meat-eating on the seven Fridays during the Lenten season is supposed to be embraced by the world’s one billion Catholics. That’s especially true if you’re of Irish heritage, the Emerald Isle being one of the strongest Catholic countries on Earth.

It’s not just about giving up the pleasure of eating meat, although that’s the biggest reason most of us choose animal foods. It’s about the value of denial, about nourishing the inner strength that comes from exercising our free will to consciously overrule our more “primitive” desires.

Now, however, an American bishop is about to undermine the entre premise of meatless Fridays, according to a report on ABC News10.com.

In Albany, N.Y., Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger has announced that Irish Catholics — well, let’s be honest … all Catholics — in his diocese can enjoy a traditional corned beef dinner on St. Patrick’s Day, even though the holiday this year falls on a Friday during Lent.

That is wrong on so many levels.

First of all, what’s the point of dedicating oneself to what the Catholic Church (and pretty much every other religion) calls “penitential practice” if the first time it suddenly means something, you cave in?

When a so-called sacrifice requires very little effort, it doesn’t mean much. If your typical consumption of alcohol is to have a beer once in a while on an occasional weekend, or maybe a glass of wine once a month when you’re dining out, then giving up booze during the 40 days of Lent isn’t worth much in terms of penance.

I mean, check out what the Albany diocese posted on its own website to enlighten the faithful about the meaning of Lent:

“Lent’s penitential character is seen when the baptized examine their faithfulness to the Gospel, in following Jesus’ way more closely. All of the Lenten practices of the Catholic Church, such as prayer, fasting and acts of charity, are directed to support these ends.”

In other words, there is a religious and spiritual dimension to giving up meat. It’s not about diet and nutrition, although it’s comforting to recognize that the church decided that for a personal sacrifice to have what people in Chicago call “clout,” it was necessary to make people give up something they actually care about.

Bad Decision, Wrong Reasons

Second, why is eating corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day so special? First of all, in my experience living in New York, Chicago and Cleveland — all cities with big-time parades and citywide celebrations on March 17 — St. Patrick’s Day is focused on liquid refreshment, shall we say, rather than corned beef.

But if corned beef is such an important part of someone’s ethnic celebration, what’s wrong with moving the feast to Saturday night? Don’t we celebrate other holidays on designated days, rather than calendar dates? President’s Day isn’t on Feb. 20, which is George Washington’s birthday, or Feb. 12, which is Abe Lincoln’s birthday. It’s been permanently moved to the third Monday of February.

Why can’t a St. Patrick’s Day dinner be moved to Saturday on the one year in seven that it falls on a Friday?

To cover his cave-in, Bishop Scharfenberger tried to spin his dispensation for eating corned beef on March 17 by giving Catholics a moral escape route, a feel-good excuse to assuage everyone’s conscience.

“The [Church] law basically says Catholics are not to lightly excuse themselves from this obligation,” the good bishop said in a statement, urging Catholics to give up meat either the day before or after the 17th.

What a cop-out.

Are we so soft and spineless we can’t even go one day without giving up a treat, we can’t even postpone gratification for 24 hours? It’s pathetic.

Look, I’m all about celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, but let’s not forget that its origins are religious, not secular.

And Bishop Scharfenberger ought to recall that the original St. Patrick was also a bishop, someone who endured captivity as a slave early in life, then became a missionary for the rest of his life and who eventually was credited with converting an entire nation to Christianity.

WWPD? (What Would Patrick Do?)

I can tell you what he wouldn’t do: Tell people, hey, go ahead and party on Friday. You can practice your faith later on, like, during the weekend.

They didn’t have weekends back in the fifth century A.D. when Patrick was preaching, and he sure didn’t convert an entire nation of Celts by telling those proud tribes to take the easy way out.

The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.