Bethany Hang Out

Catholic contemplative life and devotion



Friday all the time: going vegetarian; my story

I stopped eating meat October 1, 1985. I was 17. I did not yet believe in God, having been raised without religion. However I think this life choice at 17 was the beginning of a journey toward God for me.

I was a punk rocker as a teen in the eighties. I was very serious about it. I was in a local punk band. I had a punk radio show on the college radio station. I was as politically active as a teenager who can’t vote can be, very concerned about the possibility of nuclear war, (lots of people were then of course, during the Cold War) about poverty, the environment, human rights.

I was withdrawn with most actual people though, holding society largely in contempt, except for my closest friends. To me people cared about all the wrong things and too often were inauthentic and mean. My dad raised a good point when he said, “Why do you want to save the world so much when you hate everybody in it?” I didn’t have the answer to that. I didn’t know. I had the self awareness to figure out what I believed in and act on it as best I could, but not enough to know why I wanted to save a world I had so much disdain for.

My best friend in High School, Philip Iselt, and I picked up a book about vegetarianism in ’85, and we read it aloud together after school. It was a pretty radical book called Animal Rights by Peter Singer. I don’t think it would be my favorite now. However it opened our minds to the fact of animal suffering and what happens in factory farming. We read all we could about this issue for the next few months.


We decided on October 1 of that year to quit meat together, support one another and hold each other accountable. Going vegetarian is pretty easy these days as far as finding stuff to eat. However, it was not easy in a small Texas town in 1985. Not at all. There were no “garden burgers” or “Beyond Meat” patties at the grocery store, definitely not much vegetarian fair at all in the school cafeteria. Restaurants offered you salad, and usually of the iceberg lettuce and pale tomato variety.

I remember having to go way into our sister city to find shampoo and other personal items not tested on animals at a tiny health food store called Calico Foods, if memory serves.

I gave away my awesome black leather motorcycle jacket I had found at a second hand store for $10. I gave away my combat boots I had gotten from the army surplus store.(Back then it was so hard to find any for my small feet!) Since I was trying to embrace nonviolence I got rid of the ammunition belt I had bought from the army surplus store. too that I used to wear.

My favorite food had been chicken fried steak. Ooph. Giving it up wasn’t easy.

I was responsible for cooking for my dad and myself back then. My parents were divorced and at that time I lived with Dad. He was pretty annoyed. He wanted to know my limits. “No fish either?” I explained I didn’t want to eat any living thing that could suffer; nothing, certainly, with flesh that would try to avoid being killed. He said, “Why don’t you just not eat anything that smiles at you?” My dad is funny.

My mom was supportive about it but a little worried whether this was a healthy choice. Once she saw I was reading about what to eat and also seemed OK she was OK too.

I found a little paperback vegetarian cook book called Laurel’s Kitchen at Calico Foods. Philip and I learned a new way to eat from that lovely book which is still my favorite cookbook. I’ve had to buy new copies many times over the years. It has since been updated. And now that I am vegan I just adjust the recipes for that.

The choice to go meatless was the first intentional lifestyle choice I ever made, and the first one that was a sacrifice. It was my first try at anything ascetic. I believe this was a gentle inspiration from God. The Lord knew how to reach my heart and begin to open it: with animals and Philip, who was a gentle soul I loved very much.

Like any decision that lasts a lifetime, my commitment to vegetarianism has grown, broadened, deepened and evolved for me. I broadened my reasons to include not only the animals but the good of the poor around the world, and care of the environment. I believe that the sacrifice of not eating meat opened my heart and helped me become a more gentle person, even opening my heart just that little bit more to God who created all life. My sense of connection grew into being a part of me.

Photo by Jan Koetsier on

There is a sense of joy that comes with a vegetarian way of life. It’s an aesthetic choice to me as well. It seems to me to be a more beautiful way to live.

I shared it with my children and raised them vegetarian from the womb.

Conversion and many years of prayer have given me a sense of open-ness and tenderness toward all life that only fills out my dedication.

I don’t have any problem liking and loving people anymore either, thanks be to God.

No our Catholic faith does not require vegetarianism though there is an ascetic tradition of it that runs through our history, especially in some religious orders. Though there is no requirement in our faith for it, I do see a plant based diet as being in line with charity, care for our common home, and positive self denial. I would also argue that in these times, it is no longer necessary to eat animals or even dairy. If we can go without doing so, why not let meat go? Biblical people ate meat sparingly unless they were rich. They would have had milk in season, in the Spring when it was naturally available. Now we manipulate the bodies of animals and raze the land so that most of us have dairy and meat several times a day. Why not cut back? Every little bit helps.

Go vegetarian!

I have been vegan on and off, a year or so here and there. When my husband and I were fighting his brain cancer, we went vegan as part of that. He had glioblastoma multiforme. He made it two and a half years after diagnosis with a grade four brain tumor which ten years ago was pretty good. There were a lot of reasons for his living with it so long. I think eating super healthy was at least one of them.

After his death I had trouble eating at all so I went back to just vegetarianism.

The way I got back to veganism a few years ago was going vegan on the Fridays of Lent. After a while I added Wednesdays as well. Once Easter came, I thought, “This is working out!” So I have stayed with it. I’m very grateful. When I make a beautiful vegan meal, with all it’s colorful happiness, I always thank God that I have been able to do this.

I recently read an article from America magazine that suggested going meatless every Friday and not just during Lent the way the Church used to do and how much it would benefit the world. Obviously I think this is a wonderful idea. Why not? It could do you good, do the world good, aid you to live in love just that little bit more.

A reflective guide to Confession

When I first came into the Church, the Sacrament that stumped me the most was Confession, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It wasn’t the idea of it. It wasn’t the theology of it. It wasn’t even claustrophobia. It was learning how to contain myself into this little ritual. This was difficult for me because of my lack of experience and also because I couldn’t seem to narrow down what it was right to confess. My confession should not be a wild arrow that misses the Heart of Jesus or a list that makes Him sleepy. I want to hit the bull’s eye and sink the arrow deep. I had a hard time with my archery for a long time and I think for Jesus, my attempts to participate in this sacrament made me a crazy moving target hard for Him to hit.

I had some memorable reactions from priests to my confessions that puzzled me: everything from, “That’s not really a sin.” to “You sound like a monophysite,” to simply bursting out laughing.
I needed to find a way to contain myself in the narrow field of what I was supposed to actually do with Confession in order to let it be the conscious encounter with Jesus that it should be. I realized going to Confession was not just about me and my feelings. It was something I did for Jesus and for the good of the Church as well. I really needed to find a way to hit the mark and hit it in a way that was more transformative and open to grace.

The power of God is not limited to our personal perceptions of course. But the Sacrament isn’t “magic” either. It’s a real encounter with Jesus and His merciful love. I need to participate as fully as I can.

“Art…consists of drawing the line somewhere.” (G.K. Chesterton) I needed a way draw some lines, within the ones given to us by the Church, and still have my confession come from the heart.

Over the years I developed a way of ordering my examination of conscience and my confession into a more meaningful and sensible form that fits into the confessional “box” better than the disorganized, emotionally based way I had been doing it before.


How I prepare for Confession

First I ask Jesus what He wants me to Confess. It doesn’t have to be about everything in the world down to spilling my milk (not a sin by the way.) It could be about one particular situation God wants to work with me in. I try to be receptive as I think about my life. I pray to be guided and trust that I will be.


I write down the basic issues that come up. Then I look in the Scriptures and/or the Catechism to see what the Word and the Magisterium have to say about these things. I reflect on what I have read- especially a word or phrase that really stands out to me. A lot of the time I can see more deeply into a situation and where I am at fault, what graces and virtues I need to pray and work for, and where I need to make amends in my relationships, when I do this. I make a brief outline of what I have found out. Then I make a prayer about each sin I need to confess. After all, the priest is in persona Christi and this is a holy sacrament so why not make my whole confession a prayer? It helps me a lot to do it this way. I think I am more guided and I am more likely to find meaning and grace when I take my time to do this in a reflective way, making use of the Bible and the Catechism along with receptive prayer. Also this way I don’t lose track of what I am doing when I am there (as I often used to do.)

Let’s take an example of a sin I have often committed as a parent, though I’m sure none of you ever do; freaking out and yelling at my kids. The prayer I write out for that may look like this:

“My God, in Your Word, You have said “Do not be harsh with your children but admonish them in the Lord.” For all the times I have lost my temper with my children lately, I am sorry. Please forgive me and help me to be as gentle with them as You are with me. “

Or this: “Lord, You have taught through Your Church that parents are the primary educators of their children. For the times I have failed to teach my daughters patience and gentleness by modeling these things for them, the times I gave them a bad example instead by losing my temper and being harsh, I am sorry. Please forgive me. Grant to me the grace of patience and help me to do better.”

In the Confessional

Confessional at San Salvador Mission, Bryan

When I am in the confessional, I tell the priest before I begin that I have written out my confession this way. I have never had any one of them mind about that. Otherwise, of course, The Sacrament of Reconciliation proceeds as usual.

I do think a personal, devotional act adds to the experience, (as long as it doesn’t detract from it.) It can bring us closer to love, and give us a sense of the fact that we are entering into something sacred. My friend, Shawna, takes her shoes off and kneels when she begins Confession. I think that is beautiful. Things like that remind us of our devotion, give us the sense of the fact that we are entering into the sacred, and help us to be humble in God’s presence.

Like my friend, Shawna, I like to kneel too- not during my confession but during absolution. Why I don’t take my shoes off the way she does I will leave to your imagination.

There is a saying, “The narrower the field the deeper the dig.” That has been true for me in Confession. I don’t need to dig all over the place; just enough in the right spot, in the right way, to find that Pearl of Great Price that I am willing to sell everything else to possess.



Stations of the Cross, with love from Mary



After Christ’s Ascension, Mary, the mother of Jesus, would go out and walk the way of the Cross again, the way of our salvation and hers. She could be seen sometimes in the early morning, walking slowly, pausing.”He fell here. And again here. He spoke to the women here.”

Her prayers of Good Friday returned to mind, “My Son, my Son, my Lord, how far will this go? How much of this will You allow? If it be Your will, let me  suffer all with You, die with you! My Son, God’s Son. I will go with you as far as I can.”

She remembered, “This is where our eyes met. This is when I knew. Here is the place where Simon of Cyrene took up the Cross. Here is where Jesus was crucified and- unthinkably, died. Oh what those people said to Him, what they did to Him! Father, forgive them! May His mercy capture their hearts forever! Let me lead our children, Father. Allow me to lead them by heart and prayer, to our Son.”

And then she would walk back to her home with John, grinding grain and making cakes for his breakfast, kneading bread for the visitors who would come, spending her day in prayer and service, humbly telling the story of her Son to all who wanted to be set free.

So much of the Gospel depended on her witness. And her sons, the Apostles, needed her prayer and presence. She would stay as long as she was needed, until God took her home to her Son. As Spouse of the Holy Spirit, she prayed for, companioned, and mothered the early Church, living also as a daughter of the Church as long as God willed her to stay on earth.

People started to follow her when she walked the way of the cross. At first a small group of the women disciples walked with her. Soon many people went out early and walked with her in the quiet morning, recounting and reflecting on the Lord’s Passion and death, reflecting on what had been done for them, and that His spirit within them was so real it would raise their bodies, too, from the dead. In awe of the living proof and witness of His divinity and humanity that she was, they, too, paused in silence, and in that silence the Scriptures were opened for them, and their hearts burned within them as the Spirit, too, accompanied them and taught them all they needed to know as they walked with His Bride, the little and simple, humble and human Mary, mother of Jesus.

As persecution grew, barricades were set up by the authorities to keep the Christians from walking the Via Dolorosa, and the Apostle John took Mary with him to Ephesus for her protection.

There, she carried stones she had brought from Jerusalem to the back of the house and set them along a path she marked out in and around the garden. She would pause at each one of the markers she had made, pause and remember: Here He fell, and again here. He spoke to the women here. Our eyes met here. Simon took up the cross here.


In the end there were fourteen stations where she could stop to pray. The Ephesians from John’s church would visit her and walk this way of the Cross with her, and with her remember and reflect on all that had happened.

The Gospel had not yet been written. But it was recorded and treasured in the heart and in the footsteps of this mother who, lowly and barefoot, walked and pondered, in remembrance of her Son’s suffering and death. This walking reflection of hers became the Stations of the Cross represented in every Catholic Church, on which we meditate each Friday of Lent to this day, and especially on Good Friday, the day of our Redemption.


This is only a legend about the evolution of the Stations of the Cross, filled out by my prayerful imagination, but it makes deep sense to me. In a way it is true whether it’s factual or not. Mary is the one who treasured the truth about Our Lord for us in her heart. She was the one person who truly knew where He came from. There are parts of the Gospel that could have only come from her, including some of her inmost thoughts… and the fact that she treasured and reflected on all these things in her heart. Even if she never walked the Stations of the Cross in such ritual fashion while on earth, though it is easy to imagine she did, we know she carried it in her heart. We remember her, and she remembers us when we pray it now, and she joins us, her Son’s Church, in prayer, as she always did.

I attended the Stations of the Cross the evening of this writing. This time I walked it in my soul with Mary, from the original events of Good Friday to after the Ascension, to her last days in Ephesus, joining her on the Way of the Cross, consciously drawing on her memories.

Learning from Mary is so easy. She is full of grace. It’s what she has to share.

We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you–because by your Holy Cross, You have redeemed the world.


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