Sunday, March 05, 2006

Kiss Me, I'm Catholic

For the Catholics, Lent started last Wednesday. That means that, apart from the strange ashen crosses that showed up on everyone's foreheads last week, I'm looking at a stunted diet for the next month-and-a-half.

If you're not familiar with the tradition, Lent represents the forty days that Jesus Christ spent wandering the desert after his baptism. During that time, he was subject to three temptations by the devil himself -- all of which he passed -- and consequently returned to the world of man in order to begin his ministry. Catholics commemorate this occasion (as they do with all significant events in the Bible) by abstaining from meat every Friday for forty days. Eventually everything comes to a grand end during the last week of Lent, during which Christ's death and resurrection are marked on the days of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, respectively.

If the above paragraph makes little or no sense to you, then feel free to blame me for the description. Darn it, Jim; I'm a writer, not a theologian.

What this means, as far as I'm concerned, is that I won't be seeing any chicken, pork, beef, or any sort of mystery meat every Friday till mid-April. Complicating matters is the fact that I don't happen to like seafood, and so therefore I'll be restricted to veganism once a week.

(Whatever happened to the word "vegetarian", anyway? Did it go out of use due to some imaginary negative connotation? That would be a funny thing, really, seeing that there's no obvious discernible difference between "veganism" and "vegetarianism". If you like vegetables, then you like vegetables. If you like vegetables enough to eat only vegetables, then you like vegetables enough to eat only vegetables.Nothing wrong there.)

Muddying the waters further is the fact that the Buddhists happen to be one of my favorite guilty pleasures in this regard. Devout monks of the Buddhist religion, you see, are similarly disallowed from eating meat. For that matter, they're not even allowed to consume fish. In a strange response to these restrictions, however, Buddhist kitchens are remarkably skilled at mashing bean and tofu paste into replicas of various meat dishes. These people, therefore, literally serve the equivalent of Spam without any meat at all. (There's still the question of whether or not there's any meat in Spam to begin with, but that's a topic for another time...)

So I'll be going meatless every Friday till Easter because of my Catholic followings, and I'll be going for the occasional serving of Buddhist meat-cum-vegetable creation instead. I can't help feeling that there's something wrong with that arrangement, somewhere.

What's probably even stranger is that I consider myself a non-practicing Catholic. I may be a Roman Catholic, yes, but you probably wouldn't guess it from my daily habits. I complain, I swear, and I philosophize. I wax poetic about both evolutionary theory and the notion of God as a human construct. I keep my prayer to a minimum because I invariably think of doing things myself. And in the most obvious aspect, I don't keep a regular Sunday habit that most Catholics do.

The way I see it, there are devout Catholics (mostly in the church gatherings, arguing about scandal and morals), activist Catholics (mostly in the street rallies and the mailing lists), and non-practicing Catholics; and the last category probably has my picture attached to it. So if there's anything strange about my current situation, it's the fact that I'm willingly skipping meat every Friday for the whole of Lent.

Why do I do this, anyway? I mean, it's not as though I'm going to redeem myself as a Catholic by refusing to eat meat for six weeks.

I suspect that it has something to do with my habit of self-mortification. I'm probably masochistic that way -- I constantly test myself with the strangest endeavors in order to determine if I'm... if I'm... ...well, I don't know, I guess. I obviously haven't made an ounce of sense here, so why start now?

Catholicism is strange by itself, really. We worship entities whose existence we have no way of physically proving, we engage in rituals whose meanings have all been lost in the time since they were first established, and we take our orders word-by-word from a book that has seen more printings and translations than we can count.

And we listen to those words, follow those practices, and search for those entities -- all in one vague attempt to claw our way back into meaning. We know that it all leads somewhere. The problem is that we don't know where it goes just yet.

As well-governed and established as tends to be, I won't be the first to think that general religion is just as screwed up as the rest of us, Catholicism notwithstanding. Which is why, in a sense, it fits us to a T.

So now I'm a meatless man. And I'm a Catholic, too. In fact, I'm not just any Catholic, but a non-practicing Catholic who just happens to practice one inconvenient religious tradition out of the many convenient ones. I'm a bundle of contradictions here.

But hey, no one ever said that religion was easy to understand. :)


cstiu said...

I like your post, but I like your reference to TOS Trekkies out there better. :) Plus the fact that I'd also like to say you can always opt for those standard fukienese lumpias. They're pretty good. Soybean drink is pretty nice too. So are bean sprouts, mongo beans, chickpeas, kidney beans and taho. Mediterranean would also be a good option for vegetarian food - there's samosas, hummus, tabbouleh, babaganough, falafels, tsadziki and kosharies. Italian has bruschettas, standard red-green-white(tomato, basil, mozarella) pizzas (is cheese allowed?), pestos and gelatos. Don't have to stick to buddhist dishes - there's a lot of choices out there.


Man, I'm getting hungry.

Sean said...

Claire: I love cheese, so I can't be bothered to abstain from it during Lent. I'm told, however, that true vegans refrain from consuming such things as egg and dairy products. A more extreme practice would involve consuming only seeds and grains.

Sometimes, though, I'm glad that this comes around for only six weeks a year. And only on Fridays, for that matter. I have enough trouble balancing my diet without religion coming into the picture. :(

Anonymous said...

my mental picture of you is someone who's into that kind of thing (vegeterian[ism] or otherwise), except for the non-practicing catholic part, though.

anyway, enough of my speculations.

Anonymous said...

I need your opinion on my (final) column article for the school paper. it's the latest post on my blog. thanks! :)

Zam said...

I love Buddhist food. My Buddhist aunt occasionally brings us to the Chinese temples. They food is yummy, considering the the priests use only meat alternatives.

Zam said...

Hi! This is very forward of me but desperate times call for desperate measures! Are you the winner of the blog awards? A friend told me you were, but I'm not sure if you are. You see I have to write a feature article on the blog of the year for our magazine in Filipino class. Due date is rapidly catching up on me. So, assuming that the answer to my question is yes, would you mind if I ask you a few more questions? And would it be all right to correspond with you through e-mail? Just drop me an e-mail at and if you could, please, asap! :( I'm so sorry for imposing schedules on you, but due date is monday! Again, I'm so sorry!

Sean said...

Zam: Same here, only it's my grandmother who brings us along. It's weird, really. With the emergence of places that sell vegetable-paste-based cuisine, I'm not sure if we should continue referring to it as "buddhist". :)

I'll throw you a line via Yahoo Messenger, Zam. I'm not sure why your project would revolve around this kind of topic, though...

Shannelle said...

Hi Sean,

Catholicism is indeed strange and maybe because it attempts or tries to define itself to be "universal". I guess the wider the range, the stranger the coverage is. If you recall our theology (can't recall which subject though), entities such as saints are not worshipped by the Catholics. Well, afaik, we don't worship Mary nor the saints because we only believe in one God. We just have this so called devotions like with the novena and stuffs but then because of the fervor by some -- ok fine, many -- Catholics, it seems to people that we worship other entities aside from God.

Btw, good luck on your "diet" :p I'm skipping the abstinence for this year's Lenten Season. I get too much headache these days that I don't need to add a worry like what I should not be eating for the next few weeks @_@

Oh yeah, I suggest you try to contact Henrik. :) Since our college days, he's been practicing the veganism because of his religion (Buddhism) and he really amazed me with his strict diet. Maybe he can help you out if you run out of ideas of what food to eat.

Have a good weekend! :)

Sean said...

Shannelle: Henrik's Buddhist? I never realized that. Good thing that there are a lot of places serving vegan cuisine nowadays...

I think that that's a good way of putting it: "The wider the range, the strange the coverage is." It's as though we're all outsourced freelancers with no supervisory control, if you'll excuse the business terminology.

Shannelle said...

Yeah, Henrik's a Buddhist. I thought everyone in the block knew about that. Hehehe. Were you able to see his lunch pack? Oh well, I guess I just know about it because we were lunch buddies before. And if we ever went to McDo, he would only order french fries and some drink.

So how are your meatless Fridays?

Sean said...

Shannelle: Still meatless. It's been a little inconvenient so far (as it always is), but it's nothing that we can't handle.