A Homily.

And now for some church according to Jen.

I was raised Italian Catholic, which differs from regular Catholicism by virtue of its larger than normal portion of guilt.  Guilt on steroids.  Guilt that ate its Wheaties.  Guilt that was watered everyday and spent generous portions of time in direct sunlight.  The guilt is an actual organ in my body at this point, about the size and color of a black plum.

For all intents and purposes, I am an adult in the Catholic church.  I’ve attended hundreds of CCD classes (though I’d be hard-pressed to point to a solid memory of any of them) and I’ve been confirmed.  I’ve been given all necessary boosters of the Catholic tradition.  It’s just that, well, it didn’t take.  If asked to tell the complete truth, I would have to blurt out that I am not so sure that I believe in God.

I can’t, you see, discount the Buddhists or Hindu of the world, when THEIR traditions hold so much of value, or the Muslims whose traditions are closely allied with my own (or the Jews who probably know the best what I’m talking about when I refer to religious and cultural GUILT!)   This is not to mention a host of other practices and beliefs of any of the number of Christian faiths that I find backward and absolutely contrary to what the central tenets of any religion SHOULD BE.

But religious argument is not what I’m aiming for here, so I shall refrain from listing those things and move on to what I think my points are.

You see, I go to church only once a year, on Ash Wednesday.  It’s a tradition that began while I was in college, and which has continued through my adulthood.  I sit, by myself, close to the middle front in old, oiled pews (if I can find them) and breathe in the incense and follow the old routines of Mass.  I shake hands with those around me and smile at the warmth it brings me.  Sometimes I weep, but could not point to any specific thing that brings those scant tears to my eyes.

I am deeply attached to the message of the Gospel on Ash Wednesday.  It’s from Matthew, and it has a lot to do with the way I strive to live my life.  It says, and I paraphrase:

When you give alms, don’t sound a trumpet before you.  Do it quietly.  Don’t let the right hand know what the left is doing.  When you pray, don’t do it out loud and in the streets, do it quietly and behind closed doors.  When you fast, don’t look dismal.  Take a shower and care for yourself.  And don’t store up material possessions while on earth, but rather, commit to enriching yourself spiritually.

To me, this means pay to pay attention to my intentions.  I must do good things because they are right and are the natural outpourings of my soul’s will, not because someone (or some God) is watching.

Ash Wednesday’s teachings are some of the few that I can climb on board fully with.  On this day every year, I take a small evaluation of myself and my actions.  I remember that I’m small.  That I make mistakes.  But that it’s possible to come back from those mistakes.  I remind myself that my ultimate goal is patience and kindness, and take an honest tally of how I fell short of that goal last year.

On Ash Wednesday, I start fresh, and begin again my quest for a quiet and patient inner peace.  I open a new tablet on a calmer, less wrathful me.  I don’t do this for God, and I don’t do this for others.  I do it out of a sense of what is the RIGHT way to BE.  It just so happens that there is a passage in the Bible that speaks to that goal, and there began my relationship with this day.  The first day.  The beginning day.  The day I start being better.

“Remember man, that thou are dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.” –Genesis3:19

 

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6 thoughts on “A Homily.

  1. Lent is really the only time of the year I feel Catholic. Its the one time that I truly want to go to church. I found St. Olaf’s in Poulsbo, and its not ostentatious, its images of Jesus, Joseph and Mary are not ones of strife, but of love. The only crucifix to be found is the Processional Cross, and the beauty of the church is in its simplicity. I feel at home in this church. I’m not accosted at every angle with images of death and pain and fear.
    This year, I’m not giving up anything for Lent. My commitment is to renew my marriage… to work on it with intent to save it. This year, I was able to sit in mass and thank God (or whomever I can offer thanks to) for the friends who have shown such generosity, to brag- almost, for them, of their inner beauty. The priest at St. Olaf is full of joy and faith… not the suffering religious… someone who genuinely loves his beliefs. I thanked him for his joy. I seem to find an inner peace during Lent. Easter is welcome, but sometimes disappointing.
    I’m glad to have someone to share in my Ash Wednesday tradition. Its about introspection and finding your own truth. And its so very important.

  2. I could write volumes on guilt…the main staple in my life, (Thank you Mother). Church, Counseling, Therapy, none of it really got through until someone offhandedly told me that they believed that guilt was a man made institution, that God wasn’t interested in making people feel guilty, but in taking it away. God is interested in taking away your pain, taking your burdens on himself, not adding to them and that was the point of his self-sacrifice through Christ. To take your pain, guilt, sins, burdens away from you so that you can come freely to the Cross. to God.

    They believed that guilt, the kind people use to pressure people into certain behavior as children that later takes on a life of it’s own is something created by man to illicit behavior by the unwilling and to inflict pain on people. Something that parents or one generation begins, that is taken up by the children of the next generation like a banner.

    It really got me thinking…realize this was only a few weeks ago so I’m still processing it. Literally my entire life is fueled by guilt so it’s not an easy thing to me to explain yet.

    I really liked the passage in Matthew that you picked out. It is one of my favorites.

    Anyways…just a thought…

    – Katie (you know, from back in B-town)

  3. Wow. I can’t tell you how close to home this hits. First, being Italian AND Irish AND Mexican AND Polish, I got a quadruple helping of the Catholic guilt (not to mention alcoholic tendencies, geesh). I married a Catholic, raise my children Catholic, but don’t consider MYSELF a Catholic anymore. (Probably for many of the same reasons you find yourself distanced from the religion.)

    I have a love/hate relationship with lent, and have struggled all day with writing a post about it. You brought it all home for me, and I thank you. Paraphrasing that passage makes me humble and appreciative of some of the teachings I fight so hard to resist. And your last line, well not a minute before I sat down and came across your post, I cleaned out my son’s backpack and his art project today was coloring a worksheet about Ash Wednesday and on it the quote “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

    POWERFUL stuff. You are an amazing person, and writer.

  4. You posted a tweet on Ash Wednesday, some version of “Remember man, that thou are dust, and unto dust thou shalt return”, and it inspired me to look up Lent on Wikipedia (I’m a Catholic by birth, but I rejected religion at the age of 10, and my parents were cool with that). Anyway, my wife accepted a job in New Mexico later in the day on Wednesday, and then I started thinking:

    “Wait a minute… My band name/pseudonym is Isaac DUST. And I just found out, on Ash Wednesday, that I’m moving to the DESERT! Where it’s all DUSTY! DUST returning to DUST! And we’re moving to Las Cruces, a.k.a. The City of the Crosses. And they put a CROSS on your forehead on Ash Wednesday!”

    I told my wife that there was some weird archetypal shit going on, and that I was discovering some big hidden truth. She just looked at me and said: “Um… Yeah…. Keep working on that, Glenn [Beck].” 🙂

    YOUR reflections on the matter were actually quite deep and interesting. I should actually read the Bible some day. I bet I’d be shocked how much of it has permeated my consciousness, despite my outward rejection of religion.

  5. I was raised completely without religion, so I have none of the ties to any specific set of beliefs. I am relatively guilt-free, in that way. That being said, I respond to the idea of this particular gospel. I think that if you’re gonna do it, do it quietly. Don’t go to church just so that people know that you’re going. Don’t inflict your belief on others. I don’t have a real direction, but I figure that there’s got to be something more. We should go, do and be because it’s the right thing to do…we should be good to each other, but not because someone’s watching.

    Thank you for this post. It resonated with something in me, even though we come from very different backgrounds!

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