A Feast of Fish on Fridays*
These have been easy days for you in January, as your ward is still recovering from the gluttony of the Christmas holidays. You should know you’re lucky that your ward is Pinoy, as the Philippines has one of the longest Christmas seasons of any Cathol-icky country, so there was plenty opportunity for you to distract him from the “true reason for the season”—that bambino from Bethlehem (ugh). In this regard, you had the serendipitous resources of capitalism exported by America and the glut of goodies imported from China. And with the cities flush with OFW cash, your ward was surrounded by a fiesta atmosphere of indulgence. You could have gone on auto-pilot, just watching him walk into the holiday haze. I was initially alarmed that you had let him do those nine days of the “Misa de Gallo,” but I saw your point: that you let him indulge in that very Pinoy superstitious tradition they call the “novena” while preventing him from realizing that he was praying to a vending-machine god who would grant him his wish in exchange for waking up at the crack of dawn to doze in a church pew until it’s time for his favorite puto bumbong.
Holy guacamole (or Santo avocado, in these islands)! That preposterously popular pope—the chief agent of the Enemy—has got the masses mesmerized. Quick thinking on your part to divert your ward’s attention by reminding him of his new year’s resolution—to lose weight, to get in shape, to be fit in time for the Labor Day beach bacchanalia. As long as he doesn’t stay too long in front of the TV that keeps beaming that beatific smile, you have him cornered with his own vanity.
But you need a Plan B. If the couch proves too irresistible to him, now that the city has declared an overlong weekend, and he starts getting misty-eyed with piety, massage his guilt muscles, which are part of every Catholic’s spiritual anatomy. As he watches the old man in white kiss the heads of waifs by the wayside and deliver a sermon on loving those who have lost everything, he will start remembering the times he had tossed in the garbage bin solicitations for the fund drive for typhoon victims along with his cigarette butts and empty giant bags of potato chips; walked unseeing right past a mendicant mother in a Pieta pose at the street corner as he hurried to a party at that trendy new bistro; snapped at a little girl tapping on his window to sell sampaguita as he was impatiently waiting for the light to turn green at the crossing while sipping his 36oz. soda. Soon enough he will press the off button on the remote, throw on his gym clothes and his earphones, and head out to the gym. After all, it’s easier to grapple with physical resolutions than it is to wrestle with moral ones.
It’s February, and like clockwork, the heinous headlines—killings, corruption, crime á la carte—have all but dissipated the good vibes generated by that Visitor from the Vatican. But don’t get complacent, and don’t get wrapped up in your plot to lead your ward to perdition on Valentine’s Day, which is too easy, anyway. Four days after that feast of promiscuity, Catholics will crawl out of the woodwork in alarming numbers and flock to the churches to get soot smudged on their foreheads. Unfortunately, it’s not a pagan practice, no matter how bizarre it may sound. Since it’ll be your first time to see it, let me tell you what it is: the Catholic Church is entering the Lenten liturgical season. It’s their 40-day (not counting Sundays) preparation for the execrable event called Easter. But don’t bother with the gobbledygook. Just remember two words: Ash Wednesday.
In places like Brazil and the United States, the day before Ash Wednesday is called Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras—a holiday for our junior tempters there, since the Catholics need no help at all getting into all kinds of alcohol-abetted trouble. The next day, they’d be too hungover to go to church, and the ones who do make it have no idea what they’re doing there. No such luck here in Manila. The day before Ash Wednesday is a regular day, so expect heavy foot traffic toward the Enemy’s edifices the next day. Let your ward join the hordes, as you could turn this odious occasion to our advantage if you play him right. The church will be packed like the MRT at any given hour. Let his own mind distract him with useless errands en route to the church so that when he gets there it’s Standing Room Only.
The service will last about two hours instead of the usual one because they’ll queue up not once but twice—for the imposition of ash and for that thing they call communion where they receive a thin round wafer and let it melt on their tongue. So by the time he gets home, he’ll be surly and starving. But here’s the catch: it’s a day of fasting, which means refraining from food and drink. So you get to work on his scruples. Let him remember his sacrifices—standing in church for 2 hours, not leaving before the service is over, lining up twice, enduring the crowd—and before you know it he will be justifying the impulsive raid on the refrigerator with those very sacrifices.
Well done. Yesterday’s binge left him in a stupor, so today he’ll try to recover. And then tomorrow will be the first Friday of Lent. So that means only fish for meals if he’s not going to fast. Because it will be the first Friday, he, like so many of his Catholic ilk, will remember it only when he’s already halfway through his pork chops or beef brisket or chicken drumstick—and then look stricken with guilt. Make him feel conscientious by leading him to decide that it will be inappropriate either to finish the food or to throw it away, so he will stash it in a leftover container to finish off over the weekend. And feeling sufficiently virtuous, he would feel like rewarding himself. Voilá—there’s still half a pint of Belgian Chocolate ice cream in the freezer. Once he has licked off the last of the decadence from the spoon, you will have established a weekly pattern for him for the rest of Lent.
I knew that you were expecting to take it easy every Friday, but since he hasn’t bought ice cream or pastries with which to reward himself for his “sacrifices,” you’ll need to work with the flavor of the season—fish. Why is it fish on Fridays for the Catholics, you wonder. Well, since he-who-shall-not-be-named was supposed to have died on a Friday, his devout followers thought it would be a good idea to honor him by refraining from eating warm-blooded animals—those used for ritual sacrifice—and instead eating cold-blooded ones such as fish. Actually, Catholics are not supposed to eat meat on ALL Fridays of the year. Good luck with that!
The idea is to eat a very simple fish dish. Your ward is just one of the millions of souls addicted to their social networking gadgets (with the effect of an inverse proportion between the smartness of the so-called smartphones and their owners’), they’ve taken to abstaining from these in lieu of giving up food. “I won’t post an update on my Facebook this morning” or “I won’t check on my twitter feed this afternoon” is their idea of sacrifice, which entitles them to forgo the meat embargo. But your ward likes to think of himself as being more “sophisticated” than that, so he will still insist on fish. Here’s where you’ll prevail upon him to go ahead and eat fish—but in a swanky restaurant. No lowly tuyo or dilis for him on Friday. He feels he deserves a reward for repressing his inner carnivore and practicing pescatarianism, so bring on the Chilean sea bass, rainbow trout, mahi mahi, salmon, swordfish—anything worth the price of an entire family’s weekly groceries. And eventually, lead him to diversify his definition of “fish”—scallops and oysters, caviar and prawn, octopus and lobster. And if he’s in the mood for eating simple, suggest the sashimi from the most expensive Japanese restaurant.
So that way, you’ve got all the Fridays of Lent covered, and your ward will be ripe for our Hellish Father’s picking come Easter.
What has happened??? It’s past Easter and your ward is still unresponsive. I suspect it’s the doing of that Buddhist vegetarian you let him start dating. Didn’t you know that leading him away from Catholicism wasn’t in the plan? The plan was to keep him a Christian because it’d be easiest to exploit his innate faults that way—the seven deadly sins, remember? The Buddhists would be bad for business because they don’t carry the crap that Catholics do—they don’t believe in guilt or heaven or hell or celibacy or hierarchy or the inferiority of women. The Buddhists are all about awakening to Reality! Argh! And when your ward starts to get the hang of meditation, he will see through your temptations and simply stop playing along. Then we will have lost him.
Report back immediately to hellquarters for emergency evaluation.
We HAVE lost him. He’s still Catholic, but he’s been reading Without Buddha I Could Not be a Christian. And he’s become a vegan. You were supposed to have kept him in the dark, and now he’s uncontrollably enlightened.
Our Hellish Father has recommended a demotion. Because of your incompetence, you’ll be given a new, much easier ward to tempt. You’ll be sent to your fundamentalist Christian tonight. KEEP HIM THAT WAY!
Your Former Mentor
Written by C.S. Luis
Illustrations By Bettina Muñoz