First, I understand that’s it has been about a week since I wrote about anything at all, but it’s been over 9 months since I added an entry to “The Catholic Chronicles.” The reason for the first is simple: I was busy and had nothing really pressing to say. The reason for the second is even simpler: I broke my resolution for 2007 and stopped going to church.
As with any broken resolution, it started with just one time. Whether you’re a recovering drug-addict or a recovering alcoholic or a recovering Catholic: that first time you do what you’re not supposed to do (in my case, it was skip church), the easier it becomes to do it a second time… and a third… and a fourth… and a hundredth. I can’t remember why I skipped church in April, after Easter, but I did. Then I started realizing it was nice to sleep in. Then I started to think it was fun to watch movies on TNT or TBS while laying in bed on Sunday mornings. After that, it was pretty much all downhill. I will say that I might have only missed one or two nights all last year where I didn’t pray before I went to sleep, but I missed a hell of a lot of Sundays when I should have been sitting in a church, praying, and listening to The Word of God.
So, today – Sunday, January 27th, 2008, I am going to try and locate not only a church that I want to attend regularly, but a mass-time that works for me too. See, those things have to go hand-in-hand. It’s easy to find a place, and it’s easy to find a time, but it might not be the simplest thing in the world to mesh the two.
This morning, I went to St. Ann’s Parish on Union Street for their 9:30am mass. I used to attend St. Ann’s pretty regularly when I first moved into my house back in 2000, but, again, I found lame excuses as to why I didn’t show every week. Actually… I did have 1 good excuse: I didn’t like one of the priests there. I mean, he may have been a wonderful human being, but I hated his homilies (the talks after the gospel reading). Still, that shouldn’t be the “end-all, be-all” excuse to stop attending. No matter the past, I was there today… and I found a brand-new reason to not go to the 9:30 mass on Sundays at St. Ann’s: WAY too many kids!
As I’ve said before, I have no problem with kids. I have little problem with the behavior of the little ones in regards to them behaving. My problem lays with the parents of those children. They bring their kids to church with the equivalent of a toy chest, let them bang around, and talk loudly, but never stop them. It is a symptom of a much larger problem in our society: The “it’s someone else’s problem” problem. The fact about that is that people will look at someone like me, label me a “child-hater,” and then tell me to lighten up. Um… no. Anyone who’s seen me with children know that “child-hater” is a phrase not applicable to me! What bothers me with the kids or even the adults who go and talk the entire time, is that they are a distraction to those of us who want to be there and want to pay attention.
Keeping that in mind, I’ve struck 9:30am masses at St. Ann’s out of my weekly mass schedule. I did, however, do a little research this morning and found several churches in the area that I will “test out” over the next few months. I think I’ve attended all of them but 2 for Sunday masses at some point (I did attend 1 of them for a Christening, however), so it should be a little interesting to determine what the “best” church is and the best time for me.
Whew… who would have thought that planning an hour of adoration would be this much work?! Ah well… it’s my BLOG and I’ll do whatever I can to keep it rolling. I know I said this last year, but I really hope that I can keep it going this time!
I was getting my dinner on Saturday (Holy Saturday) and, as I was walking out of the best Chinese take-out place in Wilmington, I look across the street to see:
For those of you who aren’t very religious, you’ll point out that the sun was shining behind a telephone pole and that caused the shadow. While that may be absolutely accurate, signs aren’t always about unexplainable things. I’ve left that restaurant a number of times and never saw that before. This time it resonated with me. It showed me that, regardless of how I may feel sometimes, I’m never alone. The sacrifices that Jesus made for man have to be remembered and understood. It was very moving.
Seriously… I was holding General Tso’s chicken, rice, and an egg roll without even remembering I was carrying them as I looked at that for a few minutes. When I remembered what I was doing there, I snapped a picture with my phone and vowed to put it up on this here BLOG.
Remember: It’s not always the supernatural that can speak to you in biblical ways… sometimes it’s nothing more than a telephone pole. It’s what you make of it that makes all the difference in the world.
Today is Ash Wednesday in the Christian calendar and that means I’m going to put up with a lot of assholes making jokes about the “smudge” on my forehead. That’s not why I’m writing however…
Ash Wednesday is marked by millions of Christians getting the sign of the cross made on their forehead in burnt palm ash (usually done by an old priest who doesn’t quite get the “sign of the cross” down and it looks more like a big, gray blob). Therefore, this sign is out there for the world to see. The Gospel today, from Matthew, tells of the best way to worship mentioning specifically Let not the right hand know what the left hand is doing (6:1-4).
Choosing that particular Gospel passage for a day where we wear a symbol of our faith, to me, is antithetical. I mean, why choose that chapter and verse which tells us not to trumpet our level of worship on a day where we are emblazoned with a pile of ash?
I guess one may not have anything to do with the other, but it just struck me as really odd.
I originally conceived of writing an entry each week surrounding my experience at church that week, but, as you might guess, it didn’t turn out that way. If you look at the calendar, you’ll see that there have been exactly 5 Sundays in 2007. I have attended Immaculate Heart of Mary in North Wilmington 4 of those Sundays and convinced myself that I shouldn’t go that last Sunday (which happens to be last Sunday) because I was sick and fighting off a cold. So 5 weeks, 4 times attended, 2 journal entries… hardly the numbers I was hoping for when I made my resolution to go to church more.
So what was different this week that made me want to write? I think it’s me actually… I think that I’m very unforgiving with how I look upon the other people in the church. I mean, I’m really trying to be a semi-decent Catholic, but I cannot help that surge of anger when people walk in late or when parents decide to allow their kids to talk and scream throughout mass. My feeling is that chuch (or, more appropriately, mass) is not a “surprise” thing. No matter what parish you attend, the mass schedule is probably the same exact time every Sunday. There’s no cause for the same people to walk in at the same late time every single week. As for the kids? There’s a perfectly good “cry room” at the back of the church, but parents usually feel that they are too “good” for that room, and then allow their little hellions to run wild. Obviously, I cannot blame the kids because, well… they’re kids! They don’t know better!
I don’t get it though… I mean, I really am trying. Yes, Rome was not built in a day, so I don’t think I should be able to rebuild my church-going attitude in 5 weeks, but I’m stuck on the lack of common courtesy anymore! When my parents took me to church as I was a toddler, I remember having a baggie of Cheerios and a book. From what I’ve been told, I was a little angel and would “shush” people for speaking loudly because they would “wake the baby Jesus.” I also was forced to, not exactly dress up, but certainly dress respectably. Now it seems that kids are allowed to show up in whatever isn’t dirty!
The mass itself was fine as the priest was pretty good and his homily was topical. Actually it was quite moving, so I was happy about that. The best part, again, was the sign of peace. All those feelings of anger and annoyance left me… again. It’s an odd feeling to be swimming in this pool of pissiness and then be yanked right out to dry off in the real world.
In any case, hopefully I can remember to do this again next week
For those of you in the Christian faiths, you should know that today was the Feast of the Epiphany (or the Feast of the Magi). Basically it was all about the culmination of The Three Wise-Men’s journey to Bethlehem to give gifts to Jesus at his birth. Technically there was never any number of men told, but it’s common conception that there were 3 simply because of the gifts they brought: Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. This visit also marks the end of the liturgical Christmas season, so tomorrow all trees and wreaths and other Christmas-like things will be in storage again for another 10 and a half months. It seemed like a good a time as any to head back.
This was my first voluntary foray back to church in quite some time. I didn’t exactly remember why I had no desire to attend mass lately, but I knew that sleeping in and remaining in my nice, warm, and comfortable bed sounded a hell of a lot better than getting up, changed, and sitting in a church for an hour. However, I made a firm New Year’s resolution that I was going to attend mass weekly (and on Holy Days of Obligation) this year.
I got to church (Immaculate Heart of Mary… if you need to know), and I grabbed what used to be my customary seat at the end of the last pew. For some reason I’ve always felt more comfortable in the last pew… maybe it’s some unconscious belief that I’m not good enough to stand in the light of God or something. I don’t know, but I always end up back there.
As I am me after all, I was there 10 minutes early and wondered why 10:30 mass, usually the most popular in terms of time, was so empty. Long about the first reading (from the Old Testament for those who don’t know), it wasn’t so empty. See… my church is filled with late-comers. I guess late-comers are better than Chreasters though.
Wha? Oh… sorry. “Chreaster” is a term given to Catholic who attend church twice every year: Christmas & Easter.
In any case, my pew was taken over – as was my spot – by 2 women who came in late, and then proceeded to talk and giggle through most of the mass. The kicker was they actually left before communion, so I really don’t know WHY they even bothered showing up! See… communion is the seminal point in the mass where you receive “credit” for being there. It would be like going to a wedding, sitting through the entire ceremony, but then ducking out before anyone recognized you. No one knew you were there, so you weren’t really there… get it?
In any case, they annoyed me and really took me out of my devotion. It was at that point that I remembered why I stopped going to church. Church is a place where I truly believe that you should want to be rather than a place you have to be. If you’re there simply out of some obligation to be there, you’re not going to get anything out of it. If you are being guilted into going by a relative, friend, or even yourself, it’s not really going to do anything for you other than reinforce the fact that you’d rather be anywhere else.
Today I did force myself to be there, but it was because I remembered that I did love God and I owed him a whole hell of a lot. I forced myself because I knew I was being a bad friend by relying on him for so much and not giving anything in return. Once I got there, I realized I was happy to be there and I was glad to spend time paying attention to everything again.
I did get a little depressed as I looked around and saw people mechanically spewing forth prayers and responses by rote though. No one really thought about what they were saying and no one really understood what they were saying either!
Please don’t get me wrong: I am, by no means, a good Catholic. I’ve sinned many times and I’m very ashamed to go to confession because I haven’t actually confessed my sins since I was in high school. I’ve eaten meat on Fridays. I’ve had premarital sex more than a few times. I’ve used the Lord’s name in vain more times than I can even begin to count… and there’s definitely a hell of a lot more. The reason I say this is not to be humble, but to show that I’m really not trying to play “holier than thou.” I know I’m scum and deeply flawed, but I’m trying to realize why my faith is important again.
So, as I looked around I realized that we need to take the time, next time we say our prayers, to actually listen to what we’re saying. Instead of zoning out and treating The Nicene Creed with as much emotion as you would statistics, think about each word. Understand that you’re actually telling people what you believe and why you believe it. It’s so damned important to realize this!
To finish this first “Catholic Chronicles” episode, I’ve got to say one thing… I was getting very angry at all these realizations about people until we hit the part of the mass where we exchanged the sign of peace. I don’t know if it was the power of suggestion, maybe I mellowed out nicely, or if it was the touch of God, but when I shook hands with the woman beside me, I really did feel at peace. Honestly, it took me by surprise. All that tension I had built up inside of me was instantly gone and I was completely at a loss as to why considering this woman was the one who arrived late and talked through everything.
I don’t expect to drop everything and join the seminary, but something definitely happened and made today just a little bit different.