You may not know this, but both of my parents came from large Catholic families. Is that redundant? I actually have an aunt and two deceased great aunts, who became nuns, for real. I grew up hearing about how my mother’s family went to morning mass every day, staying for a marathon mass on Sundays. It was kind of our family’s version of “I walked to school, uphill and in the snow…” You get it.
Believe it or not, my mother somehow managed to have her two illegitimate children baptized in the mid-60s. I can’t imagine that was an easy task. Growing up, my brother and I made Holy Communion, but did not, other than on Christmas Eve, attend mass with our mother. She was done. I remember the challenge of being still and quiet for an hour, while outside the stained glass window summer’s blue sky beckoned. It was harder than those wooden pews. As I grew older, I developed more of an appreciation for the ritual – the readings, the up, down, kneel, the music and faces which grew familiar over the years. And the sooty smoke wafting from those brass orbs dangling from the altar boys’ hands? I loved it
Eventually, though, I really started listening to gospel, to the word, and some of what I heard I didn’t like. I was in disagreement about gays and euthanasia and punishment for mistakes made. I pictured a more benevolent god, sort of a cross between George Burns and John Denver. I met with a priest at the Cathedral downtown and we talked and I explained my inability to own only part of my religion. If I couldn’t believe in the whole thing, how could I practice? Wasn’t it wrong to turn a blind eye to the tenets I found it impossible to embrace? He echoed what I had been previously told by my Uncle Eamon, “Take what you believe in and leave off the rest.” I walked away, sad, but committed to no longer feeling partially invested. I left all of it.
On days, though, like today, I miss it. The crossed ashes on my forehead, the quiet of the altar and the echo of feet on the stone floors, the honor of sacrifice… I think I’m going to mark Lent this year by exploring churches, be they literal or figurative. A cathedral, a ski slope, a path through the woods, can’t they all be considered churches? I’m hoping to hit each of those places within the next 40 days. If you see me at any of those places, be sure to say hello. Just don’t ask me join you for Burger Night at the Capital City Gastropub. I gave up meat.