Catholic Church


Jesus resurrected and Mary Magdalene

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Driving Miss Dee home from Brownie’s this evening, she cheerily brought me up to speed on the “culture” badge they’d earned via the meeting’s activities.

“We made an egg holder shaped like a bunny and Browny Owl had some culture bread, which we ate while she talked to us about culture and then we wrote about our own culture in our books, which we got to make up.”

“You ate culture?”

“It was good too,” she chirped.

“Was this about Easter?” I asked, needing to nail down the cultural aspect of the evening.

“Yep,” she replied.

“Well, Mick and her old friend/new boyfriend are coming this Saturday for Easter,” I told her, having only just found out during a conversation I had with Rob before picking her up. She’d called to update him on her new job, confirm for dinner and remind him that Dare is deathly allergic to nuts. He’d recently had an incident at the restaurant where the older girls work because he was too polite to mention it to Mick’s co-workers.

“Easter is Saturday?” she asked.

“No,” I said, “it’s Sunday. Remember? You wanted to call it Easter Eve instead of Holy Saturday.”

“But I thought it was Friday,” she said.

“Friday is Good Friday.”

“According to the Catholics,” she said, using a tone that sounded a lot like her dad’s when he talks about organized religion. A cross between “how quaintly foolish and we must put this evil down – hand me the hammer and sharpen the stakes”.

At this very moment, we drove by the Separate school in Ardrossan. Separate schools are Catholic but operate under the banner of the public school system and are funded by the province.

“Look, Mom,” she waves her finger at the building. “There it is! What is it?”

We’ve had this conversation and it’s never ended satisfactorily. There is something on the building that catches her eye every time and she describes it in such vague terms that I have never been able to tell her what it was.

But this time, I think I know what it is.

“The cross?” I ask.

“Yes! What does it mean?”

Oh, how to explain this unique symbol of death. Eureka, I decide to use Easter.

“Well, you know Easter? And Jesus?”

Affirmative to both.

“Jesus was nailed to the cross on Good Friday. Died. And then on Easter, he was brought back to life,” no sugar-coating is the best way to split this knot.

And I hear the chirping of crickets from the back seat as Dee tries to make sense of this news.

How to relate it?

“You remember Osirus?” I ask.

Of course she does. She’s an excellent pagan.

“Remember how he was chopped up and Isis pieced him back together? He came back to life as the Lord of the Dead?”

More silence.

“That’s like Jesus,” I am feeling confident about having related a story I can’t even remember being told, that’s how etched it is in my psyche, to my daughter who knows next to nothing about anything that isn’t polytheistic in nature.

“Except, for the chopped up part,” she points out.

“Right, there’s that difference.”

“And Jesus is not the God of the Underworld. He is in heaven.”

Give me points for her knowing his geographical location at least.

“Yes, God raised him up to heaven,” I agreed.

“What’s God’s name?”

I flip quickly back and forth between Yahweh and Jehovah in my mind before offering them both.

“Why is he called that?” her tone clearly indicates that she is not impressed with his moniker.

“He called himself that.”

“And is he the god of?”

“Hmm, well, he’s just God.”

“And what did he do?”

Because Gods “do” things and have “jobs”.

“He created the world, they say, and humans.”

“But Zeus did that,” she said.

“Well, that’s what Catholics believe about him,” I said.

“Catholics,” she said, in that tone. “I’m baptized like a Catholic, right? So I am Catholic.”

Knowing, as I do, that it’s not really that simple – though many of my fellow cradlers aren’t that well-versed – I try to explain the “choice” thing.

“It’s not like being half-German or Irish, sweets,” I tell her. “Being Catholic is a choice.”

“Is Brookie a Catholic?”

Brookie is the neighbor girl who goes to the Christian school in town. I sigh inwardly. I really don’t want to branch off into the schism and confuse her with the splinter groups.

“She’s a Christian, which has many groups and Catholics are one of those groups.”

I can hear her eyes glazing over before she mercifully takes the conversation along another track.

“N2 was baptized like me. Is he a Catholic?”

“Yes, but he and DNOS and Uncle don’t practice it much anymore.”

“Because they are too busy with hockey?” she asks.

“Yes, hockey is time-consuming.”

“Like being Catholic?”

I am not sure that counts as a light-bulb moment, but I take it and steer the conversation away from religion, and it occurs to me that I bit off far more than I realized when I decided to teach her about religion rather than simply handing off to the church via Catholic school and catechism as my parents did.


Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Christian o...

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I love the voodoo side of Christianity – Catholic ritual especially. Like getting ashes smudged unto one’s forehead to mark the beginning of Lent. I was in high school before I realized that the priest was supposed to be marking us with a little cross. The priests at our parish were old, curmudgeonly and lazy as lizards in the sun, so for most of my childhood, Ash Wednesday meant wearing a big fat thumb print of one misogynist or the other.*

We made a game of not washing our faces and letting the ashes wear off. That whole day in school was marked with the constant flake off of burnt palm leaves from the Easter before as we endeavored wear our religion like a Brownie badge.

Of course, in my nearly all Catholic town, it was those without ashes who stood out. The rest of us were “in the club”.

It wasn’t until I was off in Des Moines and teaching that I gave up the start of Lent, as I eventually gave up Lent itself. Finding a mass to attend became inconvenient when I was anchored to the teaching day. And Des Moines was a Protestant dominated place with evangelicals and even more loony to the right of far-right’rs. I quickly tired of their prejudice and worse, their willful ignorance of any faith but their own.

“Do Catholics really drink blood.”

Seriously, someone asked me that. Someone grown up and with a college degree.

But mostly, I came to realize that it was the ritual, outward trappings and the psuedo-polytheism in the form of saints that really was what Catholicism was about for me. The silly trappings and not the beliefs or the foundation they were built on was my “religion”.

But even now, I miss the spiritualism. The mantra of prayer and response. The pageantry of Christmas and even Easter though I always found the latter to be a bit sick and perverse as it feeds an unhealthy self-loathing that often manifests out and at others. I have never found shame, guilt and fear a good basis for a relationship and yet that is the one we were instructed to build with the Almighty.

But the ashes were kind of awesome because regardless of the twisted nature of Lent, they were a rather good reminder to live in the now.

“Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.”

 

*Not an exaggeration. Neither man liked females in the slightest and took no pains to hide their contempt from us. Mothers, nuns or little girls. We were all barely tolerated.


Mary Magdalene

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When I was about seven or eight, I had a coloring book that retold stories from the Old Testament.

I know what you are thinking.

Huh?

I am fairly certain it arrived in my Easter basket along with a Skip-It, a new box of Crayolas and some chalk. The Easter Bunny was flush that year.

One of the stories was from the Book of Ruth, and as that is my mother’s name, it caught my eye. The drawings depicted a woman who also reminded me a lot of my mother physically though her obedient behavior and willingness to be a follower was not something I have ever associated with Mom, no matter what she may say about her demeanor back then.

Dad thought the story of Ruth‘s betrothal and marriage to a man named Boaz was a hoot because Boaz essentially seals the engagement by offering one of his sandals to Ruth’s kinsmen. He shared the story with all of his friends and some of them loved it so much that he was forever after known as “Boaz” in particular circles.

But I have told this story before.

What is interesting enough to prompt me to bring it up again springs from a couple of book reviews on two works soon to be published on biblical interpretation.

Fascinating stuff? More than you know.

In the days of the Protestant Reformation, one of the big deals the reformers sought – and the Catholic Church fought against – was printing the Bible in common language instead of Latin. Reformers believed that even the lowest rungs of society would benefit from being able to read the word of God for themselves. Rome cringed and declared that ordinary folk weren’t capable of interpreting scripture correctly. They would inevitably read the Bible wrong and heaven only knew what would come of that.

Ironically, the old school Catholic Church was correct to be concerned. The Bible is probably one of the most poorly understood and badly interpreted texts ever.

The authors of the new books want to set a few language and interpretation issues straight because they feel that the Christian right and the political right in the United States are deliberately promoting non-ideas and values based on faulty knowledge of the Bible.

Which brings me back to feet – Boaz’s – and Ruth.

In the story of Ruth, she pretty much puts the moves on Boaz at the insistence of her mother-in-law, Naomi.  Naomi’s late son was Ruth’s husband and Ruth had left her own tribe to be with him. Upon his death, custom dictated that Ruth could/should return to her own people but Naomi had no one immediate to help her and Ruth felt obligated to stay.

But when Boaz showed up on the scene, the wise Naomi pushed her daughter-in-law to move along. She knew that a second marriage for the childless widow was a better long-term plan for Ruth than staying with her.

My favorite “revelation” from the review talks about how sex is hidden in the Bible.

Basically there is sex on every page, but only if you know where to look for it.

As an eight year old, I had no idea that people had sex beyond kissing, and my Catholic school training certainly never covered Bible porn. Still, I knew there was more to Mommy and Daddy interactions than what was apparent to my eyes, and when I read that Ruth spent her wedding night sleeping at Boaz’s feet, I was puzzled.

“Why did she sleep at his feet when they were married?” I asked my Dad.

“Because in the old days, women were trained better, ” he quipped.

But according to scholars, there are more than a few places in the Bible where a foot is not a foot at all.

When biblical authors wanted to talk about genitals, they sometimes talked about “hands,” as in the Song of Solomon, and sometimes about “feet.” Coogan cites one passage in which a baby is born “between a mother’s feet”; and another, in which the prophet Isaiah promises that a punitive God will shave the hair from the Israelites’ heads, chins, and “feet.” When, in the Old Testament, Ruth anoints herself and lies down after dark next to Boaz—the man she hopes to make her husband—she “uncovers his feet.” A startled Boaz awakes. “Who are you?” he asks. Ruth identifies herself and spends the night “at his feet.”

My. My.

Now I wonder what the whole sandal thing was really all about.

Naturally this begs a bit of further exploration in terms of the rather famous New Testament incident involving Mary Magdelene washing Jesus’s feet and drying them with her hair.

As I remember, the disciples were quite scandalized and if the feet in question weren’t feet at all – that makes sense – and really sheds a different light on the Saviour.

But sometimes feet are feet. Like a cigar is just a cigar.

I won’t be telling the real story of Ruth’s foot worshipping to my mother, but it’s too bad Dad isn’t still around to hear the tale. That would set his ears to wiggling and earn me a look for sure.


Lesbian wedding.

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Brian Brown is a name you may, or may not, know depending on the depth of your interest and/or passion about marriage as a civil right. Putting aside the fact that the State’s only interest in marriage is from a contract and licensing point of view, and that marriage as a social or religious issue is purely fabricated to push whatever agenda is deemed necessary, Brown is the brainy brawn behind the National Organization of Marriage (NOM), which believes that marriage is a man/woman thing.

Brown’s group has been instrumental in interfering in states where same-sex marriage is/was/or is liable to become legal. NOM’s most recent victory was the appallingly disingenuous campaign waged during Iowa’s midterm retention vote for three State Supreme justices who happened to be presiding over the court when it unanimously ruled that Iowa’s own constitution forbids discrimination against gays when it came to obtaining marriage licenses. Brown’s group, instead of pointing out that the justices ruled according to existing law, lied to Iowans, telling them that the justices imposed their own personal agendas in place of the law to create a right where one didn’t exist.

It’s fine to campaign against politicians who are responsible for the creation of policy and law, but to attack non-partisan judges who simply clarify existing law is out of bounds. The retention vote – though most people don’t appear to understand this – is about the judge’s qualifications to read and enforce existing statute. Brown knows this. He is a Harvard grad after all and I am sure that makes him intelligent enough to know what the vote was actually about. It unfortunately also makes him smarter than most of the Iowans he needed to trick into helping him push his personal agenda of making sure that same-sex marriage is never legal in the United States. Ever.

Personal agenda?

Brown would not agree. He is quoted in a recent Newsweek article, quite artfully really, giving his reasons for taking up arms against the formation of couples and families with the following statement:

“Marriage is a public good. If you change the definition of marriage, you don’t just change it for the gay married couple down the street, you change it for everyone,” he says. If gay marriage is allowed, “then the state is essentially saying that my views on marriage, and the majority of Americans’ views on marriage, are equivalent to discrimination…It profoundly affects me if my children are taught in the schools that my views on marriage are bigoted. It profoundly affects me if the church that I’m part of is treated in the law as bigoted. And, ultimately, same-sex marriage is not true.”

And he is not wrong. Equality in marriage regardless of orientation would make him look like a bigot. It would call into question his Catholic faith. It would brand tens of millions of Americans as prejudiced.

Why is that wrong? He is a bigot. The Catholic Church is so riddled with hypocrisy that one more glaring affront to the call of Christ’s “love thy neighbor” hardly breaks its bigoted straw back.  And the American people, generally speaking, have always needed to be legally compelled to promote marginalized and discriminated against groups (like blacks and women for example) to equal footing.

They are all bigots, and apparently, not okay with owning it.

So not okay, that they are willing to campaign and protest and promote the idea of laws that are discriminatory.

All because people like Brian Brown can’t personally come to grips with that real fact that he is wrong, his religion is wrong and that the American people prefer inequality to equality, a peculiar flaw in a people so devoted to the idea of personal liberty and so very much about fairness (as it applies to them specifically – they don’t do abstract well at all).

Having taught public school at the middle school level for a couple of decades, I can assure Mr. Brown that his children will one day come to their own conclusions about his bigotry, regardless of the outcome of his efforts to save face at the expense of other people’s liberties. I was raised strict Catholic myself, and I am under no illusions about the stance of some of my countrymen or my former faith.

Waging war against same-sex marriage because it forces you to look at the truth is not a good reason to take up arms.  Society has weathered all sorts of enlightenment and coming to grips with the injustices that gays and lesbians have endured will not permanently scar anyone’s psyche.

America gave up slavery and then Jim Crow. It has, superficially at least, given up sexism.  Lady Liberty didn’t drop her torch and the Declaration of Independence didn’t burst into flames.

Change is life. Life doesn’t stand still and that’s a good thing.

Having to own your bigotry and admit that you are wrong is called “growth”. It’s actually quite good for your children to see. It’s a “teachable moment” that will catapult you in their esteem just as surely as their discovery of your clinging to outdated social injustice will damn you to irrelevance.

Brian Brown is not the only person to wake up one day and realize that the world was evolving when he would rather not, but he is someone with power enough to force the rest of us to cling to our bigoted past – and that’s not right. It shouldn’t be up to him or churches that many of us don’t belong to or hate groups that revel in the adrenaline surge of pointless and anger-filled discrimination.

Brown’s justification for his actions could have easily been spouted in the early 1960’s by segregationists or in the early 20th century by those who felt women should be denied the vote or by slave owners before the Civil War. It’s the refuge of the spiritually lazy to deny the right of society to grow up because it asks too much of them personally.

Brian Brown is a bigot and he’s fighting to keep his children from finding out.


Roadside Memorial Day

It had to happen. Roadside memorials being a bitch to set up and maintain and what with friends and relatives forever asking to see pictures of the latest anniversary or holiday grave decorating, a cemetery app was inevitable. It’s handy – literally – and Facebook update ready (I’m assuming because if one can’t update the graveside status for the FB peeps – what good is it really?)

And it’s creepy wrong on levels of levels. There’s so much that’s sick on both sides of this app – seller and buyer – that it’s hard to know where to begin.

It reminds me of prayer cards.

My Catholic experience with death and funerals includes holy “baseball cards” with pictures of the deceased, born on and expiry dates, a prayer of some kind and a cool religious icon on the front.

Which, I guess, is creepy too except that you didn’t carry them around and whip them out like the latest baby photos.


Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

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So, even though I spent fifteen minutes on the phone tonight reassuring my mom that vegetarianism and Easter dinner is not a recipe for disaster, it only just occurred to me that it is Holy Week. I hated Holy Week when I was growing up. It meant going to church on a day that wasn’t Sunday, like protestants do, and masses that were longer than 30 minutes, a practically unheard of thing when I was a child.

 

It started with reading the Passion ensemble style on Palm Sunday. The longest freaking mass of the year, and you spent at least half of it on your feet. No slouching. No leaning. Back straight. Missile open. Attention paid. Not that I was ever paying attention. My favorite place to hide when I was a child was deep inside my head where I had many stories to occupy me when the world around me was too intense, or in the case of mass or school, too pointless.

 

 

In school that week we had prayer services and did the stations of the cross everyday. As often as I have done them, the stations, I still don’t know them by heart. Not like a Hail Mary or the responses during the consecration which come back unbidden and  virtually word for word no matter how many years it has been.

 

Thursday night, we went to mass to watch Father wash feet and to read yet another version of the Passion. There are four gospels you know.

 

Friday. Stations of the Cross. This time in a packed church in the middle of the day. The consecrated host was taken from the altar and the tabernacle draped to indicate Jesus’ death. Fun times.

 

Saturday night. Mass again and since there couldn’t be a consecration, no resurrection yet, you would think it wouldn’t take as long. You’d be wrong.

 

Sunday morning mass, the day of the Resurrection of God’s only son made flesh, was actually the shortest mass of the week. It was like a reward for having made it through Holy Week boot camp. The gospel was about Mary Magdalene finding the tomb empty and running to fetch the apostles. It was always interesting to me that Jesus appeared to Mary first. Didn’t that make her important? The answer to that is no. Mary was a woman. My Irish Catholic view of the world told me that women ruled it, but in the Catholic church, we ran and fetched. God only loved us second best and even that was predicated on our shunning birth control in favor of Kennedyesque broods or taking the veil.

 

Easter was crammed full of rituals I detested. Lent with its fasting and meaningless deprivation. Confession. The sisters made us go once a week during Lent. We were children. At some point over the course of forty days, we had to start making up sins. And of course, there were the endless hours of rosary my dad would insist we recite every night after the dishes were done. Praying as a family was something the church encouraged although I didn’t notice it making my family a happier group of people.

 

The last Easter Sunday mass I attended was with Will the spring before we got married. We had to sit in the overflow because everyone who was ever even nominally Catholic goes to mass on Easter Sunday. I remember he thought we spent an awful lot of time on our feet and knees, and why were there seats if we weren’t going to use them? Sometimes I wonder if I am making a mistake by not raising my daughter in the faith. It certainly shaped who I am in some ways.

Maybe that is why.