I just returned from the St. Francis Alliance retreat, where I learned more about Catholic teaching on care of animals and the ways that animals suffer at the hands of humans. Laudato Si reminds us of our obligation as Catholics to care for animals and respect their inherent worth: “We must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.” (Laudato Si – 67) “Every act of cruelty towards any creature is ‘contrary to human dignity.’” (Laudato Si – 92) This is lifted up by the St. Francis Alliance and a fantastic organization I learned about in the U.K. that has been in existence since 1929, Catholic Concern for Animals.
In the U.S., farm animals are not adequately protected from inhumane treatment. In addition, livestock grazing is one of the most ecologically destructive forces of today, with livestock rearing producing more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined (Farm Sanctuary). (To get the full story on this, check out the eye-opening documentary Cowspiracy.)
As we enter into the Lenten season this year, what if we ask our fellow Catholics to consider this and take steps to take action? One of the most impactful and immediate commitments we can make is to decrease our meat consumption. If we went meatless just one day a week—let’s say Fridays—1.4 billion fewer animals would suffer through factory farming every year, and we could save the same amount of CO2 as if we were to take more than half a million cars off the road… per meatless meal (The Humane Society)! I myself am not vegan or vegetarian, and I know that like me, not everyone will choose to make the switch to an entirely vegetarian or plant-based diet. But could we commit to one day a week throughout the year? Can we commit to being conscious of our meat consumption and reducing it?
Interestingly, I learned at the retreat through the article, “A Return to Meatless Fridays?” that the Catholic Church has always intended Friday as a day of penance, and Catholics are still encouraged to consider abstaining from meat on Fridays. In addition to the practice of asceticism, reviving Friday abstinence is a means by which Catholics can bear common witness to the culture. Instead of turning to fish on Fridays, perhaps we can take the additional step of eating a truly vegetarian or vegan diet that day.
At my parish, I’ll ask our Care for Creation team to commit to reducing our meat consumption during Lent and on an ongoing basis, and invite the rest of the parish to join us. Will you do the same?