What Works: Meat-free Fridays

A few weeks ago, when the bishops of England and Wales decided to reestablish the practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays, I had been thinking about the issue already after seeing friends struggle with the few Fridays of Lent. I have abstained from “meat” on Fridays since becoming Catholic. (I put meat in quotes because seafood is allowed.) Since Vatican II, this practice hasn’t been required — one well-meaning friend even suggested I was being disobedient by doing it — but when I discovered during my conversion that the tradition was not eliminated but just made non-mandatory, I said to myself, “I think I’d like to do that anyway.”

Meat-free Fridays were a given from at least the ninth century, but it seems that when things were loosened in the 1960s, Catholics said a collective sigh of, “Well, glad that nuisance is over,” and started eating meat seven days a week. The Church never removed the requirement that one do something penitential every Friday (abstinence being one option), but many Catholics I talk to don’t even know this. I’d like to join with the English and Welsh bishops in suggesting a return to the tradition of meat-free Fridays.

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What Works: Get Outdoors

Making sure to fit nature into my life, and encouraging others to do to the same, is a passion of mine. As a writer, it’s easy enough to stay holed up indoors in a room in front of my computer all day, but my encounters with the divine in nature helped form — and, it would be the right word choice to say, nurture — my spiritual path. Nature continues to ground me in my connection to the spiritual dimension of reality.

The fact that I live in a city, without any outdoor space of my own — no backyard or balcony — doesn’t mean it’s difficult to make this happen. There are parks all around, and just a walk in the sun down city streets can be enriching. For example, after working in the office, I often go to a park and spent a little time birdwatching or just strolling.

And contrary to all the neo-Luddite moaning out there, technology is now making it easier to stay connected with the non-technological world. Many of the advances in recent years have focused on untethering people from their desks. I am writing this column on my iPad; not only can I write it but even file it while sitting on a log in the middle of the woods, or on the grass in a city park. (OK, well, as long as there’s an AT&T signal.)

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The Eternal Temple in the Eternal City

There was tenderness and reverence in his voice as Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), said the Mormon temple being built in Rome, Italy, “uniquely, is being built in one of the most historic locations in the world, a city where the ancient apostles Peter and Paul preached the gospel of Christ and where each was martyred.”

Monson, considered a prophet by Mormons, addressed millions of members around the world in a biannual satellite broadcast in April. Recalling the Rome groundbreaking on an overcast day in October 2010, attended by Italian senator Lucio Malan and Rome’s vice-mayor Giuseppe Ciardi along with many Italian members of the LDS church, he said that as the choir sang, “one felt as though heaven and earth were joined in a glorious hymn of praise and gratitude to Almighty God. Tears could not be restrained.”

Why was this occasion so special in the heart of the Church’s leader? What is it about a temple — any Mormon temple and specifically the Rome temple — that causes Mormons from around the world to celebrate its construction?

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