This business about not eating meat may not be that big a deal at all, depending on the situation. At our family get-togethers, there is usually enough variety in the food served that one could make a reasonable meal without eating meat. If one wishes to follow the “letter” of the rules, then one could do that. As for Good Friday being too sad an occasion to attend some party like that, we can observe Christ’s sorrow without going around frowning.
I think it’s important to know what is absolute and what is not. Fasting from meat on Fridays is clearly not an absolute “natural law” or anything like that, or we wouldn’t just blithely throw it off to celebrate St. Patrick’s day – which is also during Lent.
As far as witnessing to others, how can I witness to people if I’m not there? What is my absence going to say to them? My guess is the last thing it will do is increase their respect for Catholicism. If they are good and loving family members they will respect me personally for holding up to your convictions, but in their minds will they have a greater respect for the Church who has now “removed” me from the family?
Perhaps in the future they will be more sensitive in scheduling the meal, but we’re dealing with the here and now of the occasion and invitation before us. Actually, my biggest temptation might be to use the Church as an excuse to miss it and not have to put up with a bunch of relatives I don’t like seeing. So if I really wasn’t interested in seeing them, I could easily blame it on Church rules. (If that’s not the case, then of course the relatives – without me there – are left to draw their own conclusions.)
It is my personal opinion that it would not be sinful to eat with clear conscience among those who invited me to a dinner, and I would have no problem explaining it to my children or other Catholics who might ask about it. To cover one’s ground, it is probably best to consult a priest about it – but to not go at all, to me, seems like a religious slap in the face.
Actually I am dealing with a family get-together this weekend, and we are expected to show up tomorrow night. We are just going to have to get there late because I play organ for Stations of the Cross on Lenten Friday evenings. That’s OK, though, and there will be no pressure to eat meat because they are all Catholic. I don’t see that one cannot respect the Church and visit one’s family in the same day – that just doesn’t compute IMO.