If it weren't for Leap Year, St. Patrick's Day would be today Friday. This would have caused a religious conundrum of Biblical proportions. How can you eat corned beef (with cabbage) on St. Patrick's Day if you couldn't eat meat on Fridays during Lent?
Dispensations are regularly granted to Catholics to allow them to eat corned beef on a Friday St. Patrick's Day.
The Catholic faith requires abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays in Lent, which is a total of 8 days. 8 days out of a possible 365/366 days doesn't seem like much of a sacrifice. After all, if you practice Meatless Mondays, you give up meat 52 days, more than 6 times as many as in Lent.
You may have gone a day without meat by accident. You may have been sick and had very little to eat in a day. You may have been tricked by a vegetarian friend into eating something that you thought was meat but wasn't.
But as someone who grew up Catholic (and is no longer practicing), when I was younger, the Lenten Fridays felt like a huge weight.
Yes, we didn't really eat meat for breakfast during the week. If you go to a Catholic school, it won't feed you meat for lunch. So all you had to worry about was dinner. One meal where you could eat fish, eggs, peanut butter, beans — just not meat. Somehow, that seemed like a challenge.
Growing up in the land-locked Midwest, seafood wasn't the treat it would be if we lived on the ocean, where eating fish, shellfish, or any other seafood would be a treat, not a sacrifice.
Of course, this is about perspective. After all, Orthodox Jews don't eat shellfish or pork or mix meat and milk year-round. 8 days without meat is a picnic compared to that.
As an adult, going a day without meat isn't a big deal. There are definitely days where I eat a small amount of meat just to get some protein. But it works for me if I just don't think about it.
When you're younger and the world around you treats it as a big deal that you don't eat meat on a particular day, the temptation is to eat meat out of spite. This is probably why I'm not practicing anymore.
Give me a day where I have a spinach, feta, and mushroom omelet for breakfast, spaghetti and mushrooms for lunch, and a nice lobster or crab legs dinner — I won't even remember what meat is like.
This isn't to attack religion or tradition, especially the Catholic religion. If you are in a situation where avoiding meat is difficult/impossible, make up for it somehow. This was a lesson I wish I had learned when I was rebelling from the Lenten meat restriction. If the pressure is too great or the timing is too difficult or if you accidentally forget, pick another day and go without meat.
Going without meat is a penance, but it shouldn't be seen as a sacrifice. This doesn't mean you have to do it every day or even two days in a row. Going without meat for a day allows so many other options. Explore them with an open heart, regardless of why you reached that point in the first place.