Let me begin by saying today is Good Friday – for me this is a day of fasting and prayer. While I would love to share a scrumptious new recipe with you, I’d rather not think about food on an empty stomach. I had considered skipping my daily post today. That would have been the sensible thing to do. I chose instead to go another route. If a discussion involving faith is uncomfortable or holds no interest for you, please feel free to move on and we will catch up with one another later. No offense taken.
This was a difficult posting to write. I struggled with it – do I open up and share a very personal side of myself – my faith? I’ve never hidden the fact that I am a believer in Christ, or that ours in a Catholic Household. One of the things that bothers me about organized faith and beliefs (even my own Catholic Church) is when someone is in your face with their beliefs without respecting yours. I am a Catholic. I feel very strongly about my faith. It is deeply personal to me. That said, I feel just as strongly that God speaks directly to our souls – and not always in the same language. I know that puts me at odds with a great many Christians and non-Christians alike that believe a relationship with God must be their way – in the spiritual language that they speak and any deviation from that is a sure fired highway to damnation. Faith is too personal a relationship with our creator for humans to sit in judgement of others; for only God knows what He has whispered in our ear. Or where your journey may take you. There is only one truth by which all faith should be measured – to do no harm. No harm to yourself, no harm to others. Not in action, not in words, not in judgement and condemnation. Sometimes judgement and condemnation can be as subtle as an innocent, well-intended remark . . .
When Kiddo was a kid, I had hired an after-school tutor. Once a week we sat in her living room, generally having arrived early and had to wait until the student ahead of us was finished. I brought different things to read – a lot dealing with the Catholic Church and Catholic teachings simply because Kiddo was preparing to make his First Communion. I wanted to brush up on my Catechism – and be prepared to answer any question he may have. One day the mother of the other student leaned in and said if I wanted to read the Bible, she suggested I try reading the real Bible – you know, she went on to say – The Holy One, not the Catholic one. Really? I once had a co-worker suggest I read the King James Bible – written by King James, the brother of Jesus. People should think before they speak. Each time, I thanked them for their concerns and did not debate the subject further.
I grew up in pre-Vatican II world. This meant a code of conduct not present in the Church today. We fasted before mass (pre-Vatican II meant midnight, post Vatican II only requires a “mini” fast – one-hour before Mass). Only a Priest administered the Host. We lined up single-file to approach the altar, and waited until a spot opened up at the kneeler. One always knelt during Communion, as expected in the presence of the Lord. Today we bow our heads as the person in front of us receives Communion. The single-file line is also a thing of the past. In addition to the Priest, there are also Eucharistic Ministers throughout the church. Everyone wore their Sunday Best to Mass, men removed their hats (back in the day when men wore hats) while women veiled their heads. Every Friday was a day of abstinence and not discipline reserved for Fridays during Lent. While these customs do have roots in scripture, they were considered a matter of discipline and not doctrine or more to the point – dogma. What is the difference? Disciplines are acts of preparation and mind-set. For a man to remove his hat and a woman to place a veil over her head were considered a way of demonstrating that you knew you were entering a House of the Lord. Confession has also changed. Yes, Catholics still confess their sins. When I was growing up, we went to confession every week – on Saturdays in preparation to receive Communion on Sunday. (Catholic teaching once told us we could not receive the Body and Blood of Christ if we have any sin on our souls that has not been confessed and forgiven – guess they expected us to be “Saints” between Saturday’s confession and Sunday’s Communion). Let me tell you, for a kid to confess sins week in and week out was hard. Mine general went something like this “Father, forgive me for I have sinned. I argued with my sisters and got mad at my brother.” Penance was generally two Hail Marys and an Our Father. When I think about it, everyone seemed to be assigned the same penance. How did I know? Because kids talk. We compared “penance” and if you got more, wow you must have done something really big! We never asked “what did you confess” understanding the sanctity of the confessional, but rather “what did you get” as a measuring stick of sorts. Today, if you have no serious sin, there is no obligation to go to confession before Communion. It’s a matter of letting your conscience be your guide. We try to attend once a month, but even then aren’t always successful.
I remember one Saturday, coming out of the confessional and sliding into the pew to recite my prayers. Kiddo leaned over, whispering that age-old question “What did you get?” It was all I could do not to laugh out loud, recalling that same question as a child. As adults, it’s not a simple matter of a few Hail Marys and an Our Fathers or two – often scripture readings are a part of the act of reconciliation. The scripture is intended to bring about reflection and to strengthen our walk with God.
- It’s interesting to note that studies have shown there is a great deal of psychological benefit in the Catholic act of confessing our sins to a Priest. There is healing that takes place when we hear the words “you are forgiven” spoken aloud by another human being.
Growing up in a pre-Vatican II world, there were a good many things I did not understand about being Catholic – the why behind our actions. But why? That was my most asked question presented to the nuns and priests providing instructions – why? Why cover our heads? Why can’t I have a hot dog on Fridays? Why, why, why? The standard answer I received was “Because the Church has said so.” For me, that is not an answer. There had to be a reason. By the time Kiddo was learning his faith, I had a library of reference books – some actually with titles “Why do Catholics do what They Do”. Questioning is a part of growth and growth is a deepening of faith. If you don’t understand the why behind the act, then the act is nothing more than going through the motions.
I love my faith, with all of its rich traditions. Whatever your beliefs, hold them near and dear to your heart. Celebrate who you are for there is no one else like you in the entire world – you are special because the Creator made you uniquely you.
May peace, love and abounding joy for you overflow.