October 18, 2006

Miss Mass For The Right Reasons

Recently, I had a conversation with a man I know and respect who is a former seminarian. He could have been a priest, but the whole celibacy thing was too much of a commitment. Anyway, the subject of religion came up and I began to talk about taking my dad to church the day before. It was during that conversation I informed him that I never wanted to attend mass again.
What sparked that declaration was that during the portion of the mass where the priest directs everyone to "offer each other the sign of peace" I meekly shook the hand of the woman in front of me, gave my father a hug, and continued to mind my own business. You see, my mother died only two weeks before and both me and my dad were having a hard time getting through the mass. My father is deeply religious and he honestly believed he was in the right place at the right time to send some sort of spiritual radio signal to his wife, and I was simply having a hard time dealing with the image I had in my mind of her coffin in front of the alter.
That's when the woman directly behind me stated in a loud voice to the other lady next to her and everyone within ear shot "That man didn't give me peace!" The headline in the paper the next morning should have read "Local Woman Drowned In Holy Water", but I restrained myself.
There were other things about this mass that had me alarmed. I noticed that people like to raise their hands in the air when the pray now, that they actually sing the words to the songs, they pray a little too loudly, and every single person who is able to, receives communion. When I refused to get on line for a wafer (bless me Father for I have sinned, it's been 22 years since my last confession) a woman enthusiastically waved me ahead of her, and she looked disappointed when I told her I wasn't going to receive. I was the only one to put just a dollar into the collection basket while everyone else placed numbered envelopes inside. But, the huge finale was when everyone clapped at the end of the service. Yes, I am not kidding, exaggerating, or making any portion of this up. They clapped. I was dumbfounded.
Since when did Catholics become such holy rollers?
I told the former almost priest that I didn't like going to church because I can't stand dealing with zealots, I didn't like the "charismatic" aspect of modern day Catholicism, don't even mention the pedophile scandals, and I can't stand the fact that the church always has it's hand out for more money because whatever you give is never enough. There are plenty of good reasons why I should go to hell and I don't want it to be because I short changed the collection plate.
After listening patiently, he emphatically stated "That's not the reason to stop going to mass". I had no comeback. For a few long minutes I sat and pondered what he said, not because it was profound, but because it wasn't what I expected him to say, and I didn't think he'd be so passionate about my remarks. He actually cared about my spiritual well being. Because I'm a smart aleck, I asked him what would be a good reason to go to church, and without missing a beat he said "to pray to God." Or, something like that. A plane flew overhead and I really didn't hear him. Still, no matter what he actually said, he made his point.
You don't go to church because you're a fan of priests, you don't get angry at God because people can be rude, greedy, or lose their way morally, spiritually, or criminally. You go to church to be with God. It's that simple.
Since that conversation a few weeks ago, I've had no religious conversion which made me bounce out of bed on Sunday mornings to be the first in line at the church door. I haven't been a particularly nice person, and my problems with the church remain. Yet, I feel something within me which asks why I can't rediscover the unbridled religious fervor I had as a kid before I entered my rebellious, arrogant "I'm an atheist" teenaged years. I'm middle aged, afraid of death, and want to hang onto the notion of an afterlife. Even baking in hell is better than losing everything to nothingness in death.
There has to be a God, there must be a heaven. One day soon I may find my way back to mass. When I'm there, maybe, just maybe, I'll turn around and shake someone's hand.

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