May my exploration of faith be a blessing to others.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Fast Food Fridays

If you are struggling to figure out what to eat when:

  1. It's Lent.
  2. It's Friday.
  3. You're in a hurry.

You are not alone. Last week, I had to remind my husband a couple of times not to eat meat. I finally sent an instructional text offering him two lunch options to choose from: baked potato and salad at the Wendy's near his job or a tuna sandwich at the Subway. A couple of years ago, I found myself in a situation when I scheduled a lunch date at Steak n Shake. I mean, "steak" is in the name and there is not much there to choose from unless you want to make a lunch of French fries. Not only is that not balanced or healthy in way, but I'm also not really a fries fan. One time, I actually told a server to bring me just five French fries. In addition to a strange look, I also got a plate full of French fries.

So, I thought I'd make a quick rundown list of Lent-friendly options for the next time you find yourself in similar situations.


Breakfast is actually super easy. Many of the fast food places have pancakes or oatmeal or bagels with cream cheese. Even if they don't, you can order a breakfast sandwich just about anywhere and have them leave off the bacon, ham, sausage, etc. Remember, cheese and eggs are okay so you can eat them on a muffin, a croissant, a bun, a bagel, a biscuit or whatever your preferred choice is. Here in the South, you can sometimes get grits.


I'm going to break it down with a choice or two from most of the main chains or types of restaurants.

Sandwich shops: Almost all offer a tuna sandwich or a veggie sandwich.

Pizza places: Order just cheese or load it down with mushrooms, olives, peppers, onions, etc. You can even have anchovies, if you are into that.

Fish sandwiches: You can now find fish sandwiches at most of the major chains. Of course, McDonald's has had the Filet o' Fish forever, but Burger King, Wendy's, Carl's Jr./Hardee's and even Arby's and Dairy Queen now have fish options. Jack in the Box even offers a fish and chips option in addition to its sandwich. DQ also offers additional local menu items, which could include shrimp in your area. (Plus, you can still have ice cream--just don't over do it.)

Fish restaurants: The choices are obvious here since most of their options are meat-free, although several of these chains do have a chicken choice (just stay away from that one). However, if you are sick of fish, remember these places often offer shrimp, clams or even stuffed crab.

Mexican options: Fast food "Mexican" or Tex/Mex is one of the easiest places to find Lenten options. Taco Bell has even been known to put up a special Lenten menu to highlight these items on their menu. You can order almost any kind of burrito, taco, enchilada, etc. without meat by sticking to beans and/or cheese. A bean burrito is one of my favorite choices, even when it's not Lent.

Wendy's: As mentioned above, Wendy's baked potato with side salad makes a filling combination.

KFC: Chicken is the heart of KFC, and they actually do not offer any entrees or sandwiches without chicken. However, I am a fan of both their mashed potatoes and their macaroni and cheese. Order some mac and cheese with their green beans or cole slaw and you have a satisfying and balanced Lenten meal.

Chick fil A: Another restaurant devoted to the chicken with no non-chicken entrees. However, they do offer a meat-free side salad and you actually can have their chicken soup. I don't know why but soups and broths are not included in the Catholic definition of "meat."

Not on the menu: Unfortunately, I could not find any Lent-friendly options at one of my faves, Sonic, unless you want to make a meal out of mozzarella sticks (which I admittedly have done) or cheddar poppers.

A word about salads: If you order a fast food salad, be aware that many of these come with some kind of chicken or other meat, so be sure to order without that.


Of course, you can repeat any of the ideas above for dinner and apply them to casual or fine dining restaurants. Also, if you are invited to a catered banquet or dinner, don't forget that the chef probably has also prepared a vegetarian option, which you can request. My husband and I attended a banquet last week and requested the veg option. We ended up enjoying a spinach stuffed tomato with green beans and a nice risotto. Other common vegetarian catering options include mushroom or eggplant as the featured entree. And, remember, it is not the Church's goal to make things very difficult or to give offense to others. So, if you have no other option and/or don't want to upset your host, eat what you are served. (In my business, I often have to eat things I don't like even on normal days, so I promise, it won't kill you!)

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Why Do You Want To Be Catholic?

The Last Supper by Ambrosius Francken via Wikimedia Commons
This week I spent half a day in the Emergency room with my mom after she had a severe asthma attack. (She is okay now.) As soon as she was able to talk again, she immediately began lengthy conversations with every nurse, tech, volunteer or doctor who entered her room. That's my mom--if you are within her eyesight, she will learn your life story and you will learn hers. Guaranteed. Doesn't matter where she is or whether she can even breathe properly. It is her special gift.

When one nurse casually remarked that she was trying to be a "good Catholic girl," my Baptist mother began to explore the lady's faith and life. We learned about her education, her career history, her plans for the future, her husband's health and his career. (I told you,my mom is very thorough!) When the nurse told us that she had recently moved to our town, my mom immediately began recruiting her to my church! When she shared that she had been "born Baptist," my mother exclaimed, "so was she!!!!" gesturing proudly at me.

Mom told her all about my conversion and how great my priest is and how wonderful she thinks the Sister who runs the RCIA program in my parish is. (My mother is the kind of mom who thinks EVERYTHING about her children is the BEST! People and things around us are also the best by association.)

As amazing as my mother's incredible PR job for the Catholic church in general and my parish in particular was, the most amazing moment came when mom asked the nurse why she had converted. "You just know when it's right," she responded.

That's exactly how I felt. Like me, her first real encounter with Catholicism happened when she accompanied a friend to Mass. Also like me, she was first attracted to the reverence of Catholic worship. And, also like me, she takes comfort and joy in knowing that Catholics everywhere around the world are reading the same scriptures and praying the same prayers. At the same time! There is a joyful resonance in the feeling of that powerful connection across distance, culture, race, politics, economics. It is the actual meaning of the word "catholic."

According to, "catholic" means:

1. broad or wide-ranging in tastes, interests, or the like; having sympathies with all; broad-minded; liberal

2. universal in extent; involving all; of interest to all

This unity of spirit helps bring me closer to God. I feel reassured that our history, though troubled at times, stretches directly back to Jesus as He taught the Apostles, and even earlier than that to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel. I am strengthened by the idea of the Apostolic succession, that once Jesus told Peter, "you are my rock, upon you I will build my Church," that that is exactly what happened. Then, for almost 2,000 years that awesome responsibility has been passed from Peter to pope to pope.

© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons
The Church has not been perfect. We cannot take pride in things like the Inquisition, the scams of indulgences, and various corrupt leaders over the centuries. But, at the very heart of it, we have this real, physical connection to Jesus. He touched the Apostles, who touched their disciples, who passed that loving touch down to us. Each time, the minister gives me the Host, the miracle of transubstantiation is not just the bread becoming flesh but the passing of that Eucharist directly from Jesus at the Last Supper in the Upper Room at the dawn of a new age  to me in a church in a small southern American city two millennia later.

So, I hope that each of us will invite our friends to come with us to Mass so that they also can discover this universal connection to God and each other that is also very personal. All are welcome. Including nurses, techs, volunteers, and doctors--and if my mother keeps it up, they all will soon be converted!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Beginner's Guide to Lent

Fast. Abstain. Penance. Almsgiving. Terms like these may seem archaic, unnecessary, confusing or even scary to the newly initiated, especially as we enter the Lenten season. For those of us who were not raised Catholic, it can be challenging to figure out what's going on, what is expected of you and how to do it. The good news is that all of these observations and tradition, are a lot less stringent than you might think. The Church does not expect you to go on a hunger strike, never eat meat, give up all of your favorite activities, or give away all that you have. The guidelines are actually not terribly difficult and can help deepen your connection to God and to the crucifixion and resurrection.

What is Lent? 
Lent is the 40 days (not including Sundays) when we mirror Christ's 40 days in the wilderness as a time to focus on our spiritual wellness and to deepen our faith and understanding. It is a time of reflection, repentance, and service to others. Sundays are not included because we celebrate Christ's resurrection every Sunday. Sundays are a day for rejoicing not sorrow as we unite with God and each other through the Eucharist. To assist in your reflection and to build discipline, the Church calls on you to pray, fast, abstain, and participate in almsgiving.

I used to think that fasting meant not eating at all but this is not the case. The Church defines fasting as eating only one (meatless) meal a day and you can supplement this with two snacks. This sacrifice is intended to help you focus on your spiritual hunger and to realize your blessings. It is not meant to be a punishment or to cause you physical harm. In fact, if you have an illness or condition that requires you to maintain certain dietary requirements like diabetes or pregnancy, you should modify your fast as needed or not fast at all. Otherwise, during Lent, you should observe a fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

In today's world, we often hear the word 'abstain' in reference to sex. That's not what this is about. Rather, it is about abstaining from consuming flesh. This means that you avoid the meat of warm-blooded creatures: mammals (cows, pigs, deer, etc.) and fowl (chicken, duck, turkey, etc.). However, you can still eat their products like milk, eggs, butter, sauces, and gelatin. You can also eat cold-blooded creatures like fish, frogs, shrimp, alligator, etc. The specific reason for not eating flesh is to show respect for the sacrifice of Christ's flesh. That's why most of Catholic world abstains on all Fridays--the day we remember the Crucifixion. In the U.S., however, the Bishops got the Pope to excuse from this in return for offering more good work. (So, if you don't abstain on Fridays, you are supposed to be extra charitable.) During Lent, we are expected to abstain from meat on all Fridays. 

As mentioned above, you should not participate in these penitential acts if they are harmful to your health or the health of your child in the case of a pregnant or nursing mother. You are not expected to fast until the age of 18, although you should abstain beginning at age 14. People aged 60 and older are excused from both. You are also permitted to break your fast or abstinence if observing it would cause offense to a host. For instance, if your boss invites you to dinner and serves you steak, you can eat it. 

Giving Something Up
The Church does not regulate the longstanding tradition of giving something up during Lent. The Church views these penitential acts as a disciplinary observances that can help the individual focus on the meaning of the season. Many people choose to give up something they love, like chocolate or candy, or something that is harmful to them, like smoking, or bad habit, like oversleeping. Others, select to give up a particular comfort or vanity item (like sleeping pillows or wearing makeup). Whether you choose to forego a particular food or habit or comfort, you should not choose something that is going to be so difficult that it will result in frustration or anger. (The year I gave up sodas, I was depressed and mean and not even interested in eating at all during the last 10 days!) Again, the purpose of all of these penances is not to actually punish yourself, but to discipline yourself. So, you can indulge in whatever you have surrendered on Sundays if you wish. However, if you are truly trying to discipline yourself into a new habit (like not smoking), taking a break once a week could undo that effort.

We are called at all times to be charitable, whether through contributions of money, goods, services, or time. During Lent, we are asked to increase our charitable practices. You can do this by contributing to special appeals, identifying a new cause you'd like to support, volunteering more, or making more time for others. If you don't have money to spare, clean out your closets and donate those clothes you don't wear. Volunteer to help at the local shelter or spend a Saturday visiting people in a retirement community. Or, you could make an extra effort to say thank you by making a meal for the people you work with or reaching out to family or friends you've lost touch with. Remember, Jesus washed the feet of the apostles. If He can do this, there is no charity too low or too small for you.

What else can you do?
If you want to really step up your observations during this time, go to Mass more frequently. Even if your parish does not offer daily Mass, there is likely a church in your area that does. You could also make an effort to attend all of the special Masses of the season: Ash Wednesday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Saturday Vigil--which is when we welcome new Catholics into the church. If you live in a city that is the base of a bishop or archbishop, you can also attend the Chrism Mass during the week before Easter. All of the priests of the diocese participate in this ceremony, reaffirming their own commitment and blessing the holy oils that will be used throughout the upcoming year. If you have the resources, go to Jerusalem or to the Vatican--I think we should all do this at least once in our lives. You can also pray more by attending Stations of the Cross, Rosary, or Novena or performing an Adoration. Join a study group, read the daily readings, study the Catechism, or watch or listen to Catholic can provide you with schedules and programs. (When I am too ill to go to Mass, I always tune into one on the local EWTN station.)  And, don't forget reconciliation. There is no better time to repent and seek forgiveness than now.