Stephen Bullivant writes a good article (here) about this simple but obligatory catholic discipline. Four years ago this week, he reminds us, that the Bishops of England and Wales re-instated the obligatory discipline of abstaining from meat on Fridays (fish excepted). It is not, of course, an heroic act of virtue but nevertheless it is a little thing that is required of all Catholics. To refuse to do it is usually a serious matter.
Yesterday at the chaplaincy stall on the university campus I was asked by a student why we Catholics abstain from meat. I said simply that it was a common act of discipline, a kind of training, that helped to improve our self-discipline and obedience to the church, and also show a certain solidarity with our catholic brothers and sisters."We all keep it together" I said. I wondered what the response would be.
The person asking was a Christian but not a Catholic. She said "oh cool; that's actually a really good idea!" I think sometimes we Catholics think our Catholic disciplines will appear not cool to others, and we end up trying to hide them. By declaring I was eating a veg pasty because Catholics don't eat meat on Fridays, lead to a brief discussion about catholicism, and the hearer's response was "oh cool - that's a good idea". A very small but nevertheless positive result.
It wasn't an instant conversion to Catholicism but in order for people to even consider the Catholic faith an option, they have to start understanding why we do what we do. If Catholics don't say why - who is going to?