Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ask Tony: A dinner-party dilemma


It's Lent. A non-Catholic friend of yours has invited you and your beloved to dinner at his house on Friday night. When you get there, you find that the entrée is steak. Your friend grills an excellent steak. But it's a Friday in Lent. What do you do?

Eat the steak. Enjoy the steak. Thank your host for a lovely meal. Don't bring up "meatless Fridays" unless you can segue to it naturally and charitably from some topic being discussed; better to wait for another day.

Nowadays, with the greater social concern over food allergies and dietary restrictions, it's becoming more common for hosts to discuss preliminary menus with their guests unless they know each other so well that such things are already known. So this situation is becoming less common.

The practice of meatless Fridays is no longer enforced under penalty of sin outside of Lent. However, it's still a very, very good spiritual practice, a minor mortification offered in union with our Lord's suffering on the Cross (cf. Col 1:24). (For a Nebraskan, giving up steak at any time is almost a heroic sacrifice.) It's also one of those culturally distinctive practices that promote Catholic identity.

Having said that, though, even if it were still being enforced under penalty of sin, I would recommend this course. The overriding principle here is charity.

Your host was under no obligation to invite you to dinner; once you committed to the dinner, you committed to the menu. If you'd had reason to suspect that your friend would use the dinner as an opportunity to test your faith, the appropriate response would have been either to suggest Saturday or beg off on the grounds that you would not want to put him out of his Friday steak. As it is, the charitable assumption is that he either didn't know or forgot that you were keeping the practice.

As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions. One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him. ...

Then let us no more pass judgment on one another, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for any one who thinks it unclean. If your brother is being injured by what you eat, then you are no longer walking in love. ... Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for any one  to make others fall by what he eats; it is not right to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother stumble. —Romans 14:1-3, 13-15, 19-21


  1. Ah, a combination of spirituality and etiquette. I don't eat meat or drink alcohol partly for spiritual reasons. I'd eat the steak because it's already dead & you can't bring it back to life now. Wasting it would be even worse and offend the host. My extended family knows damn well I'm vegetarian & is insensitive, so I quit going to those shindigs. Spiritually, those people aren't good for me anyway. Usually, a host isn't offended if you don't drink. We recovering people know what parties are ok & which to avoid.

  2. What is etiquette except ritualized politeness? I think a lot of problems today, especially concerning treatment of women by men, stem from the loss of the sense of politeness ... too many people confuse rudeness and bluntness with honesty.

    I'd thought about mentioning vegetarianism in the body but figured it was off-topic. Thanks for bringing it up. Also, thanks for bringing up alcoholism. The exception to my general rule would be food allergies, and recovery from alcoholism is analogous. I did go to a party where, at one point, a friend got upset because I wouldn't participate in shots (I don't let my self get drunk anymore, and I'd already reached my limit); it took me some effort to get him calmed down. Courtesy works both ways; it's not a host's right to make you eat and drink until you barf or pass out.

  3. Agreed -- and have been there done that. You can have a re-do Saturday to make up for the missed penance.

    --> On a Friday outside Lent, if I knew I were likely to be foiled, I'd go ahead and follow some other penance for the day. Since we have that option. In the surprised-by-steak scenario, you could also go home and perform some suitable substitute such as saying an extra rosary or what have you.

    But I have been instructed in the past that during Lent it is recommended that when a serious situation arises, to move the day of penance to Saturday. (And yes: People thinking religion makes you a jerk, that's serious.)

  4. "The practice of meatless Fridays is no longer enforced under penalty of sin."

    You mean outside of Lent, right? Because during Lent, the Church discipline was promulgated in the 1966 Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul VI, Paenitemini. There, we read:

    "1. The time of Lent preserves its penitential character. The days of penitence to be observed under obligation throughout the Church are all Fridays and Ash Wednesday, that is to say the first days of "Grande Quaresima" (Great Lent), according to the diversity of the rites. Their substantial observance binds gravely."

    Outside of Lent, the Church now teaches that Friday abstinence can be met by special acts of prayer or alsmgiving rather than abstinence, although abstinence on all Fridays is still recommended. The point is that on Fridays, the Church did not just dispense with abstinence, but sought to encourage a deeper understanding of the penitential spirit.

    But during Lent, abstinence on Fridays is still required.

  5. @ Mark: You're right; I've corrected it. I think what happened is, when I was looking at the 1966 Pastoral Statement from the (then) NCCB, I'd mentally transposed the lifting of the obligation from outside of Lent to inside as well.

  6. @ jenniferfitz: I have to confess, I stopped getting drunk long before I started reverting back to Catholic orthodoxy. About the fourth or fifth time I found myself "driving the porcellain bus", I said to myself, "Y'know, this ain't all it's cracked up to be." Besides, my mom's side of the family has had problems with heavy drinking, so it's a matter of more than passing concern; gluttony has already caused me enough problems.

  7. Hope you don't mind that I used this post on my blog (with proper credit, of course!) Visit me at

  8. No, I don't mind ... in fact, I'm honored.