Choose mortifications that don't mortify others

I went to a friend's place for lunch on Monday. He is a baptised Catholic, but he's also strictly observant of Jewish law. When he fasts, he really fasts.

That means no meat, no fish, no milk, no butter, no eggs, no oil and no alcohol for the duration of Lent. (Stay with me here. I'll lighten the mood, really!)

Until my arrival, I was oblivious to this.

Suddenly confronted by his Lenten discipline, an adage came to mind: "Choose mortifications that don't mortify others." What was he going to serve me? Even bread was out, because "store-bought bread contains oil."

As it happens, I was served a generous bowl of boiled vegetables, dominated by large pieces of potato, carrot and onion. It didn't look appetising, but it smelled okay. I tasted it tentatively. It was one of the most delicious meals I've ever had. It was healthy, it was filling, and it was a delight. It was also inexpensive! I asked my host for the recipe.

My host didn't eat at all. He was abstaining from the midday meal. He sat at the piano and played Bach while I and another guest ate. By now I was in no doubt of his zeal for penance. It put mine to shame. "But," I asked him, "what about festive joy?" Fasting only makes sense in light of feasting.

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