When we walked into church on Sunday, I noticed the priest was wearing red.
“It’s Pentecost,” I whispered excitedly to Dan. “I love Pentecost!”
I do love Pentecost. As a Catholic, I know that Easter is the most important holy day in the calendar. Without Easter, there’s no Christianity.
But I always regarded Pentecost as extremely important as well. (Please note: I am but a layperson in the church, not, by any means, a theologian.)
Jesus promised his disciples that he would not leave them alone. That he would send them a helper. He sent them the Holy Spirit so they would have the strength to go out into the world and share the good news.
And that’s what is documented on Pentecost Sunday, fifty days after Easter. A great wind comes to the disciples, tongues of flame rest over their heads, and they leave the room where they had locked themselves away, and begin to declaim the Word.
Imagine if the Spirit never came. Imagine if they never left that room.
Fourteen years ago today, it was Pentecost Sunday.
Fourteen years ago today, I delivered my stillborn son Gabriel, after four days of being induced and going into labor.
I truly believe that the Holy Spirit came to me and to Dan, in our time of need, and I was given the strength to deliver our son. Jesus breathed into that room and stretched out his hands, and peace came into my heart, and strength came into my body. It did what was needed to deliver Gabriel.
I was given the strength to leave that room.
Without the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, I’m not sure I would have left that room.
I don’t mean literally. I am sure I would have been delivered of Gabriel one way or another, and I would have left the hospital, empty handed, hollow in my heart.
But metaphorically, if I had not received the strength of the Holy Spirit, I would have stayed locked in that room. I would not be mother to three other children. I’m not sure my marriage would have survived if I had stayed in that room out of fear.
So, Pentecost has deep personal meaning to me, as well as being important to the church in which I practice my faith. I give thanks to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit for imbuing my life with the ability to move forward. Every day I am thankful for my marriage and my motherhood, in all their aspects, both dark and light. I feel the flame in my heart.
I am a religious person. I think we’ve established that.
When I advocate for things like gay marriage and women having access to healthcare, when I speak on the virtues of love and tolerance even when you don’t agree with someone else (which can just as difficult from a liberal perspective as from a conservative one), I struggle with my religion a little bit. Not my faith, mind you, my faith is pretty straightforward: “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” And so on.
It is said sometimes that Satan’s greatest trick is convincing people he doesn’t exist. So I struggled with that. I don’t think my God of love and mercy gets hung up on human sexuality the way humans do, for example.
But I don’t know. God is infinite and unknowable, and me saying, “Eh, I don’t think God gets hung up on human sexuality” could be just as valid as someone else saying, “God wants marriage to be between one man and one woman.” The first message just sounds more tolerant.
But at some point late Friday night, I realized that I don’t think the lie of religion is in any of the things I hold dear and advocate for in this human vale of tears.
The lie of religion is that God wants you to kill or oppress other people for your religion.
God doesn’t want that. I don’t know the rules of the Quran, but I am willing to bet that just like in my Christian Ten Commandments, there’s something that states, “Thou shalt not kill.”
God doesn’t want us to impose our religion on other people be it through laws or through guns and bombs.
We can speak our faith and our religion. We can practice our faith and our religion — here in America, anyway. It’s easier to be a Christian here; when people hear freedom of religion, that’s what they default to. But Muslims, and Jews, and Hindis, and Buddists, they get to practice too, without fear of being barred from their places of worship, without being beat up for their religion.
And no doubt, it is harder in other parts of the world. Christians are persecuted in the Middle East — and I don’t mean Starbucks red cup persecuted, I mean “live in real fear of prison and death” persecuted. Muslims in American must live in fear, too, after things like the attacks in Paris. I cannot imagine.
The lie of extremists is the lie that when they act out in violence, they are doing God’s work. When they act out to oppress and take things away from, that they are doing what God wants. I’m not just talking about ISIS. They are the most egregious and scary example, to be sure.
Christian extremists may not be toting guns around at Pride rallies, but to impose one’s religion on people trying to exercise their civil rights is wrong-headed and ugly too.
Jesus came to us and left us with one commandment.
“Love one another. Love one another as I have loved you.”
We don’t get to be selfish and judgmental in the service of our religion. That is about the exact opposite of what Jesus charged us with.
We need to sacrifice and serve in the name of God to give him glory. And maybe some of what we need to sacrifice is the idea that because we are Catholic or Christian or Muslim, that the rules we live by need to be imposed on everyone.
Religious extremists do the work of Satan in the world. They foster strife and drive people away from God. They end conversation. They close off what we should seek to open.
We need to show them that love is stronger than death and destruction. That the world will unite and be stronger in love than in hate. Faithful or not, religious or not, spiritual or not, if we can unite in love, we will be doing what we are here to do.
I’ve done some reading and research over this past week, trying to understand my own feelings regarding marriage equality and my Catholic faith. I am neither a theologian nor a lawyer, so in some ways, I simply cannot speak to the larger issues of these things.
The most important part of the Catholic message is the following (and I am quoting directly from Bishop David Zubik’s letter in this week’s Pittsburgh Catholic):
“The Church has taught and will continue to teach respect for the dignity of all women and men, regardless of sexual orientation. The Church is here for everyone, and Jesus extends his love and mercy to all of us.”
The most imporant thing to remember about America is that we have a firm basis of rights and liberties that are NOT built on religion. I don’t know when the idea of American being a Christian nation took root, but it is simply incorrect.
Are we a nation build on ethical and moral law? We sure are. One doesn’t need to be a religious person to be a good person. Treat others well, do not harm others, be kind, treat every person with respect and dignity. These aren’t necessarily precepts that need to be culled from a religious book in order to be codified into law.
The Catholic church is remarkably consistent in its teachings about sex and death. Sacramental marriage, that is marriage performed in a church by a priest, will remain between one man and one woman. Sex outside of that sacrament is viewed as a sin. Adultery, premarital sex, sex after divorce, and homosexual sex are all rated the same. Priests take a vow of celibacy, hence they cannot marry (hence they are not supposed to be sexually active). Nuns take a vow of chastity; they are viewed as married spiritually to Jesus.
The church is also anti-abortion, pro-gun control, anti-death penalty, and against suicide and euthanasia.
The church also teaches its adherents that we have a duty to care for our fellow humans. We should perform acts of mercy and charity, donate to those less fortunate, and work to see that people are protected from harm. As Catholics, as Christians, that is our part of our calling to love everyone.
Many people have written on this issue much more eloquently than I am able. This article from Dwight A. Moody is well articulated and there’s is this one by John Pavlovitz, about what Christians actually lost in the marriage equality ruling (hint: it’s not the freedom to practice our religion).
So. I’m feeling better. I can return to church in good conscience. I can continue to love and support all of my friends and family. I can pray and be heard. As my father said in a text to me (and I hope he doesn’t mind me quoting him): “Church is important to you for the right reasons.”
Yesterday, I got up during the homily, in which the priest was going to address the Supreme Court’s decision to make marriage equality the law of the land, and I walked out of church.
And then when I got home, I cried because I walked out of church.
When the priest started his homily, he was completely upfront about what he was going to talk about. I froze. I thought to myself, “Okay, now what am I going to do?”
The priest suggested if we hadn’t read the dissenting opinions on the ruling, that we should. And then he brought up the First Amendment, and I’m pretty sure he was going to head into an argument about how the Supreme Court’s ruling infringed on my freedom to practice my religion. And *that’s* when I leaned over the Flora and Kate and said, “We have to go.”
It wasn’t fair, what I did. It wasn’t brave. I should have sat and heard the priest’s argument so that I could adequately state my position, whether for or against.
But all I could think about was my cousin and his husband, and how happy they looked in pictures. All I could think about was my new friend Kristen (who was in Listen to Your Mother with me) and her wife Beth, and their little girl, with whom I had just spent the bulk of the day. And I couldn’t sit and and risk hearing hateful words about these people, because I love them. And because if the priest said hateful things about them from the pulpit, it would break my heart, because I love being a Catholic.
The American bishops have declared that the Supreme Court’s ruling is a “tragic error”. That marriage is between one man and one woman, and that a human establishment can’t overrule that.
I did go and read the dissenting opinions. I understand the arguments for states’ rights, and I believe, that given time, enough people in enough states would vote to make marriage equality the law of the land. But how much time should we have given states?
The court had to order states to free slaves, allow blacks and women to vote, integrate schools and businesses. So the argument that the court overstepped its role to bring marriage equality to the states just doesn’t fly.
Sometimes people in states have to be told to do the right thing. Sorry, people in states.
As for the potential arguments that same-sex marriage impinges on my First Amendment religious liberty, that I just do not understand. I cannot see how the marriages — and divorces — of my friends and family curtails my right to go to church, receive the Eucharist, pray as I like, and preach the word of God.
“I say that gratuitous interference in other people’s life is bigotry. The fact that it is often religiously motivated does not make it less so. the United States is not a theocracy, and religious disapproval of harmless practices is not a proper basis for prohibiting such practices, especially if the practices are highly valued by their practitioners. … That isn’t to say that people are forbidden to oppose same-sex marriage; it is merely to remark on one of the costs of that opposition and one of the reasons to doubt that it should be permitted to express itself in a law forbidding such marriage.” — Richard Posnar, writing for Slate
When I got home and burst into tears in the kitchen, Dan held me. He said, laughing a little bit: “I love you, and this is what I love about you. That you struggle with this.”
He assures me that I can reject what the priest was saying and still be a good and faithful Catholic. “Jesus gave us one commandment,” he reminded me. “Love one another. That’s it. That’s what we have to do.” I have to love everyone, including that priest.
And I suppose Dan is right. I *love* my faith, I love going to church and receiving the Eucharist. It is so integral to who I am as a person. I love the creed and the message of Jesus to love and help one another, to minister to those less fortunate, to bring the light of the Word to others by my speech and by my actions.
If accepting and celebrating the fact that same-sex couples can take advantage of the legal protections and benefits of marriage makes me a bad Catholic — well, it won’t be the first thing. I’ve said before, I am a creed Catholic, and a New Testament Catholic. If Rome parses the Gospel in such a way to declare that holy matrimony, that is, sacramental marriage, is only for heterosexuals… then so be it. But the civil and legal institution of marriage, the right to join your life to the person you love above all others, to live in peace and raise children (if that is your choice) — I’m going to celebrate that, too.
I suppose I’ll go to confession this week, because I walked out of church and did not receive communion, and prevented my children from receiving communion. And we’ll move forward from there. As with women in ministry, I can do more good in the pew than outside the church.
It was an extremely busy and exhausting weekend, but all the effort was completely worth it. Everything to celebrate Kate’s First Holy Communion fell into place, everyone got where they needed to go, the weather on Sunday worked out beautifully (thanks, Spring, for showing up for a day!), and I’m sure I owe my dad a ransom in gas money.
I think my husband and my parents think that I was doing things by the seat of my pants, but I have been working on this plan and this weekend for more than a month! Yes, it required a lot of logistics planning and delegation to pull off, but that was actually part of the plan.
Of course, my mom is right. If it had rained Sunday, we’d have been screwed.
Of note: Saturday night, we needed to find a place that could accommodate a dozen people around 6:30. After talking over the possibilities, we decided to call The Central Diner, and see if they could do it. We called at 4:30 to see if they could accommodate a party of what turned out to be 13 around 6:30, and they made a reservation for us.
They hooked us up big time. If you’ve never been to the Central Diner, they are a New York-style diner with a full bar and a full menu including Greek specialties. They are always packed. I was a little worried when we showed up, actually.
I needn’t have been concerned. They put the children at a big corner booth, and we adults at an 8-top nearby. The children behaved AMAZINGLY WELL. The service was IMPECCABLE. We had two servers, one for us and one for the children’s table, and the children’s server loved our kids. She asked to let her know when we were coming back so she could wait on them again. And I think she meant it! Portions are HUGE, and everyone’s dinner was delicious.
So: a special thank you to the Central Diner for not just accommodating our large party on a very busy night, but for making it a wonderful, memorable part of a fantastic weekend.
Saturday morning, we woke up to a messy mix of snow and rain, and I cried in my kitchen. However, by Sunday afternoon, it was a breezy 60-degree day, sunny and pleasant. Once we got set up at Moon Park, we hardly saw the children. I just want to thank absolutely everyone who came to play, eat, and celebrate with us. And thanks to everyone who brought cookies! Oh, my, the wealth of sweets!
After about three hours, I chased Michael down and made him sit and eat something. Then he promptly fell asleep on Pap-pap.
I read Number the Stars by Lois Lowry today. (The Book Thief is better, IMO, richer. But Flora’s class read Number the Stars.)
This is from the afterword by the author. In case you can’t read it, let me transcribe it:
“… And I want you all to remember that you must not dream yourselves back to the times before the war, but the dream for you all, young and old, must be to create an ideal of human decency, and not a narrow-minded and prejudiced one. That is the great gift our country hungers for, something every little peasant boy can look forward to and with pleasure feel he is a part of — something he can work and fight for.”
It is the holiest part of the year for my faith, for my religion. And this is the message that Jesus came to bring us: Love one another. And these are the words from a century ago, from a peasant boy who was killed for fighting to save other people — people he may not have even known, people whose faith he may not have shared.
He wanted to save them because they were fellow humans. Jesus wants us to love one another because we are all flawed people who are in this together.
It’s so simple.
Last night was the washing of feet. Jesus told us, “If you will lead, you must first serve.”
It’s so simple.
Jesus came to give us a new covenant. A new commandment.
The priest at my Sunday mass was a visiting priest. He was also a combination of priest/stand-up comedian, which is notable because those were the two career choices Dan was trying to decide between when he was 10 years old.
His homily was successfully funny and engaging — and he started out by thanking parents for bringing young children, so he won me over from the start — and also inspired and moving. He captured the vitality of my faith.
Despite what some people may think, Catholicism isn’t dead or moribund. It’s a vital and living religion. It’s not a dull, dead set of rules that we are supposed to follow so we can go to heaven. It’s a journey, it’s an adventure. It’s alive!
God has plans to prosper us. He doesn’t want us to live in little tiny boxes, and not break rules, and not have pleasure in our lives. He wants to heal us, he wants to love us. And he wants us to show the world his healing and his love.
Listening to the priest talk, I had this feeling in my chest — this feeling of brightness and lightness. And THIS, this expansive feeling is the thing I wish I could share with everyone who wonders why I am Catholic. It’s so hard to put into words! If I could just reach into myself and put some of it into your hands, I feel like it would be clear.
It’s like that feeling one has — or that I had, anyway — when one meets the person they want to spend their life with. Sometimes, people ask, “How did you know?” And the response is, “You just know.” My whole internal calculus changed when I started dating Dan.
Something happened inside of me when I put myself back on the path that God wanted me to be on. It was quiet, but it was revelatory. I didn’t find my Catholicism constraining or restricting. I find living with my faith to be entirely freeing. It’s the same way I felt when I got married — I didn’t see my commitment to Dan as limiting to me. Instead, it freed me — it freed me to be the best person I could be.
Does that make sense?
And I guess that’s a major reason I take the children to church, even though it’s a pain sometimes. It’s the reason we are educating our children at a Catholic school. I don’t know what life is going to throw at them, and I don’t know that they will always be Catholic or religious at all. But if I can share with them what the priest was up there talking about — that God has plans to prosper us — then I will have done the best I could do.
The priest said something very interesting, again, somewhere near the beginning of his homily. “You can’t love something you don’t know.” I can’t depend on my children to just love God or love their faith because I tell them to. I have to teach them about it so that they can fall in love with it.
It took me a long time to be in love with my faith.
I’ve been ruminating on this post for some time. I blame Stephen King.
Dan bought me King’s latest novel, Revival, for Christmas. I finished it some time ago, my first book of 2015 — and it’s good. I would recommend it if you are a King fan. Compelling story-telling, as always.
*Spoiler alert* (skip on down to the ++)
Toward the end of the book, we, of course, get what we came for: a good dose of nightmare imagery from the King of Horror. A peek into what lies on the other side of the earthly curtain.
Our protagonist is a boy when he first encounters charismatic minister Charles Daniel Jacobs. These two men are destined to encounter each other over and over again, and each is dealing with his own obsessions and demons. Finally, our protagonist, having been cured of his heroin addiction through the application of “special electricity” by our antagonist, finds himself witness to a breach into the afterlife.
And it’s horrible, a terrifying landscape of dead souls prodded through a barren valley by ant-like creatures. The sky is a void hiding “The Mother” an insectile being from the Null. This, according to King’s character, is what awaits us when we die.
No God, no peaceful afterlife, no heaven or nirvana — not even a blank void of nothingness. A version of hell awaits every person who is alive.
The depiction of this afterlife reminds me of other King novels, including Lisey’s Story and From a Cadillac 8 — neither of which I liked at all. I pretty much hated Lisey’s Story. Too fantastical for my tastes, I suppose.
And even as a work of fiction, the story fell apart for me right at the end. My suspension of disbelief couldn’t deal with this imaginary afterlife. As part of the story, it makes sense. It is crushing to Jacobs because instead of being reunited with his beloved wife and son — who have been dead for years — he has discovered that Hell awaits.
Sometimes Dan asks me if I think I will be reunited with loved ones when we die. He asks specifically if I think I will get to see Gabriel. In other words, what is heaven like? And I truly do not know; I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on it.
If I were more romantic, I would like the idea of seeing my first son. Something about that thought brings me peace.
But what I do believe is that after we die, we are reunited with God. That there is a heaven. And that regardless of how we conceive of it, we enter a world of love and light. Such that it doesn’t matter if our loved ones are there to greet us or not. That beyond this earthly plane there is no more longing, no more pain.
The infinite nature of God, or heaven, is completely beyond our comprehension. Since we can’t wrap our heads around the idea of the infinite, I think we try to give form to what may be waiting for us. We guess, we hope, maybe, we dread. King paints a picture of terror; books like Heaven Is Real paint pictures of a welcoming afterlife.
I prefer to believe in the welcoming version, the version where we are in God’s presence for the rest of eternity. Maybe that sounds glorious, or naive, or hopeful. It’s comforting to me.
Do you believe in Heaven?
ETA: It’s From a Buick 8, not a Cadillac. h/t Adam Music! (Who didn’t answer the question. Boo.)
Yesterday at Mass, a baby was baptized into the Catholic church. This was the first time I had seen a baptism at our parish, and I was oddly moved by it.
Flora was the only child to attend Mass with me yesterday. During the baptism, she leaned against me to watch the proceedings from our pew.
“Did I cry when I was baptized?” she whispered.
I told her I honestly didn’t remember.
The little baby kicked her feet during the christening and anointing. I was reminded of spending the day after each of my children was baptized leaning over to smell the chrism on their little heads.
I watched the parents, a young couple — “young” being a relative term; they are probably in their 30s, maybe late 20s. They beamed with pride and hope.
I, too, felt a measure of hope and pride. Hope because a church that is performing public baptisms is a church that can continue to grow and thrive. And pride because in the face of the challenges that the church faces, these parents decided to stand up and declare their dedication to said church.
I don’t think that Christians or Catholics in America are under siege the way some far right religious people might feel. There’s no “war on Christmas”.
At the same time, I do think it takes a certain amount of bravery to stand up and declare yourself among friends and family who may have different religious or spiritual beliefs.
I’m not a great Catholic, but I am a practicing Catholic, and I make no bones about it. I’d like see the Vatican change the policy about ordaining women; I miss Mass sometimes, usually on Holy days of obligation during the week; I don’t know my catechism by heart by any stretch of the imagination. I am a creed Catholic; that is, everything that is said during the Nicene creed, I believe, wholly. Although I do wish they would change that part about “for us men” and just say “for us.” I leave off the “men” when I pray the creed aloud in church.
And I also believe and try to practice Jesus’ first commandment, which is simply, “Love one another.”
I was excited to see that these parents and godparents were happy to participate in this child’s baptism. I wonder if they get questioning looks or snide comments from friends or acquaintances about their faith. Conversely, of course, I wonder if they married in the church and are baptizing their child in the church because of familial expectations. (I didn’t get that sense from them. They were *beaming* during the ceremony.)
I think Pope Francis has introduced a freshness into the public Catholic face, and I couldn’t be happier that he is the leader of the church in the world. But the things that he preaches are not new to us practitioners of the faith. It’s a relief that the focus is being taken off of sexual ideology, and the conversation is once more focused on loving *and serving* each other.
I know that sometimes people think we faithful are judgmental, or old fashioned, or stuck in the past, or irrational. (Granted, some religious people are any or all of these things.) But the church is a living breathing organization of real people as well. The people in the church, from the Holy See on down, are imperfect, thus the Catholic church is imperfect. But we’re trying. The best of us (and I don’t necessarily count myself among the best) are trying to live and serve God, and bring the message of Jesus to everyone.
One of my friends marveled that they make faith so hard. I wasn’t quite sure what she meant, unless she was speaking about faith as a set of rules to follow — which is not how I think of my faith. I find my faith very freeing. It’s not difficult for me to be a person of faith. Although, again, I am not a great Catholic.
Looking at those parents holding their child as the priest performed a baptism, I was heartened. For the Catholic church, as well as for my parish. They truly gave the sense that participating in the sacrament was a joy, not a chore. And I hope that more Catholics feel joyful when it comes to their faith than don’t.
It’s finally time for me to quit smoking. I’m using Lent as the stopping point. It feels natural to me. I have to give up something for Lent, and I have to quit my one-cigarette a day habit.
So. Here goes.
I know I can quit. It’s just a matter of getting through the physical addition. Mentally, I’m finally ready to stop making excuses (“It’s just one cigarette!” “I don’t smoke every night!” “I need something to help me relax!”)
I am a relatively intelligent person. Smoking cigarettes is not an intelligent thing to do.
With the extremely cold weather, I had already kicked the “end of every day” habit. I didn’t want to go outside in negative wind chills — or even temperatures under 30 degrees — to smoke. So I have been skipping one, two, three days. But then I would find myself looking ahead at the temperatures to see if it would be warm enough for me to smoke.
That was a big red flag. Like, I was planning it. “I can smoke again on Thursday because it’s going to be 25 degrees. That’s warm enough!”
I also have to admit: Smoking doesn’t make my stress go away. The stress is there all the time. Smoking was a way to avoid it, say, “I’m not going to deal with today any more.” I can find something else to transition into the end of day, to bed. I don’t need a cigarette to read a book.
Speaking of reading, I am also going to try to read a little bit of the Bible each night. I think I’m going to start with the letters of John.
Are you doing anything for Lent? What’s your favorite fish fry?