Get Bent, Lent

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Lent is finally here. For Protestants, that means nothing, but for me and my fellow Catholics, it’s 40 days of misery and despair. Roughly 2,000 years ago, Jesus spent some time in the desert, and for some reason that means I’m not supposed to eat meat roughly six Fridays a year. To outsiders, that seems like a minor inconvenience. To me, it’s literally the end of the world. The apocalypse and occasional dietary restrictions are exactly the same thing.

Meatless Fridays used to be in effect year-round, which is why in the 1950s the world had exactly zero Catholics. Today, the Church only expects its members to refrain from delicious animal flesh one day a week during Lent, which is still 24 hours a week too many. I’d switch to a religion without periodic vegetarianism, but I’ve dumped too much time into Catholicism to start over somewhere else. I refuse to be an entry level Scientologist when I’ve already worked my way up to being fourth in the line of succession to the papacy. I’m three heart attacks away from being infallible. But if I want my shot at the throne, I’ll have to end each workweek during Lent with three straight meals of disappointment. The early martyrs had nothing to whine about. Getting eaten by a lion sounds way better than this.

If it makes those martyrs feel any better, the lions all went to hell for eating meat on a Friday.

From a historical perspective, meatless Fridays are dubious at best. Modern scholars have no idea what Jesus actually ate when he was in the desert. He didn’t post any pictures of his food on Instagram or leave any well-preserved stool samples. I already checked the bottoms of my shoes just in case. Stepping on a Jesus turd would be the archeological discovery of the century. Given the current dearth of evidence, scientists can’t rule out that Jesus ate steak every night. For all we know, in 30 A.D. the desert could’ve been full of Texas Roadhouses. It’s impossible to prove a negative. If the theologians can use that argument to support the existence of God, then I can use it to support the existence of moderately priced chain restaurants.

On the grand scale of miracles, Jesus eating at a Texas Roadhouse isn’t any more unreasonable than him rising from the dead.
Since it’s possible Jesus spent his entire wilderness excursion gorging himself on delicious cow parts, the Lenten dietary restrictions have nothing to do with following in his footsteps. Instead, meatless Fridays exist mainly because they make us miserable, which is somehow supposed to turn us into better people. I don’t get that logic, but part of me hopes it’s true. If unhappiness is really the path to self-improvement, then I’m the greatest man ever to live. I even made myself a plaque to prove it.

Although it seems like no-meat Fridays exist solely to ruin my life, that’s only 99 percent of the motivation behind them. The other one percent is because that’s what the Bible says we should do. According to the New Testament, God hates meat, but only at the start of the weekend. The rest of the time, he changes his mind. He can do that because as far as I know he doesn’t answer to anyone. The Lenten meat ban is measured on the Gregorian calendar and is timezone specific. At exactly 12 AM on Saturday, meat is no longer a sin, but even one second before that, a rib eye is a ticket straight to hell. It’s impossible to know how many people have been damned forever because they forgot to take into account daylight savings time. Eating meat on the wrong day is a worse offense than theft or murder because each bite counts as an individual sin. The primary reason I won’t get into heaven is a 72-ounce New York strip I ate in 1998. For the record, it was worth it.

Life without meat is already hell, so really I didn’t lose any ground.
Most of the time, though, my innate Catholic guilt gets the best of me and I abstain from meat when I’m supposed to. That is without question the worst thing in the world. Better luck next time, herpes and coworkers who constantly clear their throats. All I have to look forward to in my life is the sandwich I eat every day for lunch. I put two piece of wheat bread, one slice of American cheese, and two slices of turkey in the microwave for precisely 22 seconds. If I accidentally leave it in there for 23 seconds, I throw it all away and start over. It took me years to perfect that recipe, and now my very sanity depends on getting it exactly right. When I open my lunch box and suddenly remember I packed a peanut butter sandwich because it’s Friday, it feels like I got kicked in the nuts by a donkey. My coworkers long ago tired of my shrill cries of pain, but my grief is real. Unfortunately, I can’t take time off work since my employer’s antiquated bereavement policies don’t consider the sandwich to be a member of my family. That’s religious discrimination. My lawsuit is pending.

Sadly, the recurring meat ban isn’t the end of Lent’s horrors. Catholics are also supposed to give up something besides meat during these 40 days because apparently the whole point of this religion is to add insult to injury. Although it’s explicitly forbidden by the rules, what I really want to give up is “giving up things for Lent.” According to the pope, that’s like wishing for more wishes. Growing up, I refused to part with something important like Pepsi or TV, so instead I gave up being mean to my brothers and sisters. I successfully kept that pledge zero times, and to date there have been no consequences for it. The penalty is supposedly in the next world, not this one, which is fine with me. I’m already going to hell for that steak anyway.

Lent is only 40 days long, but it feels like eternity when several of those days are meatless. I survived this religious season in previous years, but I’m older now and I don’t bounce back from hardship the way I used to. My goal this year was to make it to the third day before I had my first emotional breakdown. I only missed that mark by two days, 23 hours, and 59 minutes.