Q — I grew up Catholic, and we always did meatless Fridays year-round as part of the Catholic practice of abstinence. (We had fish instead.) Now, as a vegan adult, since I'm already skipping meat anyway (fish, too), if I still wanted to do some kind of Friday abstinence, could I give up things like soda pop, desserts or even beer? (Indiana)

A — On the Fridays during Lent, Catholics who have reached age 14 are asked to abstain from eating meat as a penitential act to join in the sufferings of Jesus. I have known people who have followed that rule by dining out on an extravagant lobster dinner. That, of course, misses the point; what is asked for is sacrifice.

In 1966, when the U.S. Catholic bishops lifted the rule of mandatory abstinence on Fridays throughout the year, this is what they said: "Since the spirit of penance primarily suggests that we discipline ourselves in that which we enjoy most, to many in our day abstinence from meat no longer implies penance, while renunciation of other things would be more penitential."

Your question — about what other things you might give up — suggests that you have captured the spirit of that statement. All of your choices — soda, dessert, beer — have merit, because they would require a conscious decision on your part to forgo something that you like.

But the sacrifice you pick need not even be centered on dietary matters. I've always thought that a good idea for Christians on Lenten Fridays would be to take five minutes around three o'clock in the afternoon just to be quiet and to thank Jesus for dying on the cross to redeem our sins.

Q — Our pastor is rude (at times, obnoxious) to a church volunteer who contributes a lot of work as an assistant to a paid church employee. (That paid employee has told me that he himself has been written up by the same priest for insubordination — for telling the priest that he should be on time for confessions and that his remarks from the altar at the end of Mass are too long.)

Is there anyone who can put a stop to this? My friend, the volunteer, is afraid that if he files a complaint with the parish secretary, his colleague (the paid employee) might be punished. (upstate New York)

A — I am sorry if your pastor has acted rudely, and I apologize on his behalf. Priests are human and are often very busy these days — some, with multiple parishes under their responsibility — but that doesn't excuse them from treating each person with respect (especially someone who volunteers time to help the parish).

I don't think it would be productive for you to involve the parish secretary in this matter; a parish secretary would normally have no role in a grievance like this. The most upfront way, of course, would be for you to seek some time with the pastor himself and explain, as a parishioner, your concern over what you've been hearing.

But if you are reluctant to do that, there are other courses of action. Most dioceses have a priest who serves as director of clergy personnel, and you might seek some time with him to share your thoughts.