Am I the only person sick and tired of people who commit symbolic acts, devoid of substance, and then get in my face about it, as though they are really, really super people for their highmindedness and right thinking? Maybe THAT is the reason acts of penance and abstinence are in decline. The latter are far from symbolic and devoid of substance, but they share certain common appearances that can make them seem to be unappealing to a person who is accustomed only to the symbolic. I'm particularly thinking of the Patriarch from the Church of the Nativity, who has "excommunicated" Bush, Rummy, Blair and Straw. (You have to be a communicant before you can be excommunicated, fella!) But there are all kind of such things that go on every day among people who have no fundamental guiding principles--and, sadly, among those who do.