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Reprinted with the permission of the National Catholic Register.
Friday starts to work on you when you are a child.
You wake up, and it’s Friday. You don’t understand why adults say, “TGIF.” For a child, a Friday is painful, because it is almost, but not yet, Saturday.
Your lunch bag has a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich in it. You like peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches better, but sometimes you wish it was ham when it’s Friday.
After school comes dinner: fish sticks and rice, with ketchup. You have taught yourself to tolerate and then to like ketchup-y rice. But why is it that fish sticks are always either too burnt or too mushy?
In Lent, Stations of the Cross comes at the worst possible time — in the early evening. You don’t understand why everyone stands in one place, unable to see most of the stations, instead of walking with the priest from place to place. But something feels right about everyone coming to the church after dark to focus on Christ.
If you serve Stations of the Cross, then you do get to walk from station to station. Your arms ache from holding the cross, the surplice itches, but you don’t hate it. You feel like you are helping Jesus be the center of attention.
Before bed that night, you say your prayers quickly, and then you lie down. You have learned that life is always a little bit disappointing, and you have connected that disappointment to the cross. You have also learned that there are moments of pride and glory that Jesus also gives with the cross. You don’t say it, but you feel it: “I am yours, Jesus.”
In college, Friday is still disappointing. Your “T-TH” classes seem somehow a little bit fresh and novel each time they meet; Friday of a “M-W-F” class feels like one class too many.
Lunch in the cafeteria is an odd, wrapped-fish thingy. Fridays in Lent are the days you eat salad.
There are stations in the afternoon, but you don’t go to stations when you’re in college. Too many other things going on.
That night you go out because it’s Friday, and at some point find yourself squinting at a Chinese food menu looking for meatless items. You don’t want to order shrimp. They always short-change you on shrimp.
If you’re 21, you find yourself in a bar. If it’s a town bar, you eat peanuts or pretzels. If it’s a restaurant bar, you eat calamari appetizers and spend way too much for the privilege.
Before bed that night, you might not even say your prayers. You are in college, in between childhood acceptance of faith and adult ownership of it. But you didn’t eat meat, and that reminded you to keep inside other boundaries. You have nothing to confess, or, if you do, you intend to confess it.
Jesus has kept his claim on you.
As an Adult
Friday morning. Friday, thankfully! Just one light day of work and then a break.
You eat out for lunch with the office. Protestants and non-practicing Catholics order meat. You get fish and chips. You no longer get salad. Salad has meat on it when you’re an adult.
No one has thought of dinner, and all the quick options have either been used already in the week (spaghetti) or have meat (ground beef). So you make rice and fish sticks — only 16 minutes at 425 degrees. You’re supposed to flip them at some point, but don’t. Some will be burnt. Some will be mushy. Such is life.
Stations of the Cross are a demanding exercise in child discipline. They happen at the worst time, when children are in their end-of-day adrenal phase and when being in church seems unusually burdensome. You notice for the first time in your life that the Seventh Station text is the shortest.
Your son is serving at stations, but you forgot to notice him when he passed.
You think of how many people have lived Catholic Fridays and for how many years: factory workers, popes, novelists and waitresses; feudal peasants, feudal lords, martyrs and monsignors.
Each of them went through the Friday routine of bland lunch, bad fish, Stations of the Cross and Sorrowful Mysteries.
For ages, the Fridays have risen and receded like a tide through the Church, Jesus reminding every Catholic that we are his.