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As I read about the St. Mary’s College of Maryland experiment with a meatless Mondays concept at its cafeteria (Feb. 15, “Meatless Mondays cooks up heated debate at college”) I had to wonder what the response would have been if instead of a student government call for meatless Mondays, Archbishop Donald Wuerl had come to the college and called for abstinence from meat on Fridays.

I’m certain there would have been a rending of garments and wailing and gnashing of teeth; a loud bemoaning about a violation of separation between church and state and the forced indoctrination of non-Catholic students.

The St. Mary’s College student government association recently voted unanimously to not serve meat during lunches and dinners for eight Mondays. After this trial period they will vote again on whether or not to make this change permanent. The association president, Andrew Reighard, said the vote was not about pushing a lifestyle on students, but instead was meant to uphold the college’s mission to be environmentally sustainable. College President Joseph Urgo, said, “It’s smart to be smart about what we put into our bodies.”

So, are we onto something new and smart here or simply relearning old lessons? Did that stodgy old Catholic Church already know for nearly two millennia that abstinence from meat, as enshrined in their weekly Friday penance prescribed in Canon 1250 and 1251, was good for the environment and our health (and our soul)? Did it stray from its mission and this wisdom when in 1966 the U.S. bishops permitted their faithful to substitute other forms of penance outside of the Lenten season in place of abstinence or fasting?

We could argue the theology until the cows come home. What I find more interesting is that an act (i.e., abstinence from meat one day a week) is encouraged and celebrated as enlightened and egalitarian when preached from the altar of environmentalism, even though it is forced upon unwilling participants, but yet that same act would be protested as involuntary religious indoctrination when taught from Catholic Canon.

I would argue to the St. Mary’s College student government association that if they would not approve of Cardinal Wuerl calling on them to abstain from meat on Fridays, perhaps they themselves should not ask their fellow students to abstain on Mondays, regardless of the benefits to the environment, health or soul.

Mike McGinn, California