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  • Writer's pictureMike Matson

Accidental Cheeseburger

Updated: Apr 3

This column was published March 23, 2024 in the Manhattan Mercury.

 

Half the cheeseburger had been pounded down my throat before I remembered it was a Friday in Lent. Big deal, I thought, dabbing ketchup from the corner of my mouth with a napkin.

 

Then I remembered I was a Catholic. For many Catholics, not eating meat on Fridays during Lent is supposed to be a big deal. I didn’t feel guilty, just annoyed. Having been a carnivore longer than I had been a Catholic, not consuming flesh of the farm animal on Lenten Fridays was probably the hardest of the new rules to buy into.  

 

I describe myself as a “cafeteria Catholic,” selecting certain traditions and dogma from a buffet, based on my interpretation of societal norms, while ignoring those that seem outdated or inconvenient. Critics argue it undermines the integrity of the religion. I argue the critics can be more open-minded.


My thoughts about organized religion can be traced to my maternal grandfather. “It’s the same God in every church,” Victor Ordway once told me. He was a self-made man who tended to trace systems upstream. “The rest is just window dressing.”

 

By definition, religion is an institutionalized system of attitudes, beliefs, and practices surrounding the service and worship of God. My definition of spirituality is me and God. No window dressing. My spirituality got real during the fits and starts of my recovery from addiction. When it finally took hold and in the years since, I came to believe that no human power could have relieved my addiction.



Early in my recovery, I would often hear fellow recoverers say they were grateful to be an addict. Huh? Grateful to endure all the loss, heartache and misery that accompanies addiction? No, grateful to have played through the pain to find our way to an existence grounded in ‘human to creator spirituality.’     

 

One of my buffet favs is the template provided by the calendar. Forty days and forty nights of deprivation and self-discipline. At the time of my Friday cheeseburger, I had already bought into the dogma enough to have given up social media for Lent. A chance to turn away from self-centeredness and material pleasures, contemplate what that means, and in my case, write a column about it.

 

I respect those who prefer the full course, plated sit-down meal versus the cafeteria. I get that Mass is at once a celebration and a memorial. I understand that in the eucharistic prayer, the community of faith commemorates the sacrifice of one human being for the sake of all the rest of us.

 

I’m pretty sure God could not care less whether I eat a cheeseburger on a Friday during a specific man-made forty-day window on a man-made calendar. But I also believe he would expect me to share it with a fellow human who is hungry and to whom it would matter more. 

 

I am not losing my religion. Each passing Lenten season brings deeper contemplation and leads me to believe I never really had it. But my connection with my creator, or Creator, for the traditionalists, and the gift received through addiction recovery only serves to strengthen my belief. Count me as among the grateful. There’s no way I did that on my own. 

 

Lent has ended and I intend to ease back into social media with a deeper understanding of why I gave it up for forty days. Because I love my wife and respect her traditions, I’ll do my best next Lenten season to steer clear of the burgers on Friday. It’s a big deal to her, so by extension, it should be a big deal to me.  

 

I’m pretty sure that’s also expected of me.

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