Category Archives: Religion

Take Your Coat Off and Stay Awile

Imagine if you invited a bunch people to your house for a celebration and most of them left their coats on? Now you know how Jesus must feel.

I’ve noticed that maybe 70 percent of the people at my church don’t shed their outerwear during mass. It can’t be that they’re cold, because the temperature during heating season is always comfortable. Summer’s a different story; the parish’s lack of air conditioning is worth its own blog post.

Over the years, the Catholic Mass has not really been about comfort, what with all the annoying kneeling and standing. I was told as a child that this is so you don’t fall asleep. But what’s with wearing the coats? All I can figure is that people do not feel welcome. Or perhaps they’re just waiting to be asked to take them off.

Jesus was not a guy to stand on ceremony. If he could see today’s church, with all of its formal adornment, ring kissing, and Papal palaces he wouldn’t be happy. He was not about fancy schmantzy nonsense, but was more of a down to earth guy.

If Jesus saw you in church with your coat on, he’d suggest you take it off. Then, one of the apostles would write about it and it would be scripture — and nobody would ever leave their coat on.

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Predator

Gary Mercure used his position as a Catholic priest to gain the trust of young boys. And then he raped them. Now he’s going to prison, where he belongs.

What makes this worse is the shadowy involvement of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany who, it may be argued, did not do enough when they first heard allegations of Mercure’s crimes. Don’t know about you, but I’m not satisfied with their explanation.

So to prison he goes. Some will say he’s getting off easy.

In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty is an unconstitutional punishment for child rapists. Me? I tend to agree with President Obama, as cited in this 2008 NY Times story:

Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, said, “I think that the rape of a small child, 6 or 8 years old, is a heinous crime, and if a state makes a decision under narrow, limited, well-defined circumstances, that the death penalty is at least potentially applicable, that does not violate our Constitution.” He added that the Supreme Court should have set conditions for imposing the death penalty for the crime, “but it basically had a blanket prohibition, and I disagree with the decision.”

It’s tempting to compare Gary Mercure to an animal, a dangerous creature who deserves to be treated like a rabid dog. That would be wrong. A rabid dog does not understand the consequences of its actions.

True Confession

There’s an app for everything these days — even one for helping you unburden your cluttered Catholic conscience. A new download, called “Confession: A Roman Catholic App,” helps users navigate the sacrament of reconciliation. It’s like a workbook to prepare you for penance.

One thing the app doesn’t do is replace the actual act of going face-to-face with a priest. Too bad.

When I was a wee lad — probably eight years old — my mother took me to confession at our local church. I was a little shaky on memorization and couldn’t recite the Act of Contrition. The priest, rather than helping me out, yelled at me from behind the darkened screen and told me I’d better get my act together.

I was a bit rattled, but it’s what came after that knocked my socks off. My mother stormed from the confessional and dragged me out of the church. The priest told her I didn’t know my prayers. Imagine the embarrassment of going to confession and hearing that your kid’s a lousy Catholic.

We were told at religious education class that what happens in the confessional is confidential. Apparently not.

Looking back, I probably deserved a kick in the ass for not working hard enough, but after that I always avoided the confessional. It’s funny the things that stick in your head forty years later.

A Prayer to St. Lucy of Syracuse

It used to be that the end of the year rolled around and I’d still have vacation days left over. The policy was use ‘em or lose ‘em, but you could roll them over if you promised to take them during January.

At my new job, a place where time may be accrued forever, there seem to be people who are sitting on weeks or months of vacation. You’ll never see me do that. I’m using every day.

Why? Because it would be tragic to die and leave vacation time on the table.

While not a big prayer, I found myself thanking God that I had a couple of days off recently. How silly. There’s no greater gift than a day at home, but God has bigger matters to look after.

This got me thinking that there must be a patron saint of days off. I was wrong.

So who do we pray to? There are scores of saints for specific occupations, everything from gravediggers to toy makers, so you could always pick from among those — but I’d suggest the catch-all category of laborers. Among the eight patron saints of laborers, I’ve decided to pray to  St. Lucy of Syracuse because she has the coolest name. And like so many saints, she was martyred:

After torture that included having her eyes torn out, she was surrounded by bundles of wood which were set afire; they went out. She prophesied against her persecutors, and was executed by being stabbed to death with a dagger.

Wow. If that doesn’t sound like a bad day at work, I don’t know what does.

St. Lucy doesn’t float your boat?  How about a prayer to St. Lydwina of Schiedam, patron saint against prolonged suffering, which is what work is sometimes like. Turns out she’s also the patron saint of roller skating, but that’s another blog post.

Church: Jesus Doesn't Want Kids with Two Moms

You know, at a time when the Catholic church is having a little image problem and Catholic schools are struggling to keep enrollment numbers up, this story is the last thing they need. From the Patriot-Ledger:

A lesbian mom of a South Shore boy says “it was a shock to me” when St. Paul School withdrew an application for the boy this week, on the grounds that it conflicted with Catholic teachings to admit the child of a same-sex couple.

OK, I get that the church has a problem with same-sex couples, but punishing an eight-year-old boy because they don’t like lesbians? Maybe they think it would be dangerous to have this kid around the other children — or maybe the two moms will have the audacity to show up at parent’s night and offend everyone.

Please Lord, protect us.

Actually, you’d think that the school couldn’t wait to get their hands on that boy and straighten him out. No pun intended.

Like a lot of people, I am trying desperately not to be ashamed of stuff that happens in the Catholic church. This column by Nicolas Kristof last month is something you should read. An excerpt:

When you read about the scandals, remember that the Vatican is not the same as the Catholic Church. Ordinary lepers, prostitutes and slum-dwellers may never see a cardinal, but they daily encounter a truly noble Catholic Church in the form of priests, nuns and lay workers toiling to make a difference.

St. Spoiler and the Martyr of the Movies

So I’m sitting in church on Palm Sunday and the priest asks, “Are any of you fans of Joel and Ethan Coen?”

The Coen Brothers? I love the Coen Brothers! I’ve seen all their movies, some of them five or six times! OK, I haven’t gotten around to A Serious Man yet, but all the others? Absolutely! I even liked The Hudsucker Proxy! The Coen Brothers RULE!

I raised my hand.

He continued. “Yes, me too. I enjoy their movies very much — and I’d like to tell you a little about how the Coen Brothers movie A Serious Man relates to the story of Palm Sunday.”

He explained the plot, not really giving up anything that you wouldn’t find by reading a few reviews. But what he said next nearly had me jumping out of my seat. “And then, at the end of the film there’s a real twist…”

Please don’t.

“Just when the main character thinks…”

Stop.

“That’s when…”

Oh, no!

Usually when I don’t want to hear something I put my hands over my ears and go “Lalalalalalalalalalalalala…” but uring mass on Palm Sunday did not seem like the time or place to do this. I just sat and gritted my teeth took it.

I had this happen once before in church. A priest was railing against the ending of Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, which he described in perfect detail for those in the congrgation who had not seen the film. People like me.

Well, now I know exactly how A Serious Man ends, just like I know how Blood Simple and The Big Lebowski end. I still enjoy seeing those — but the difference is  I didn’t know how they ended the first time I saw them.

Look: I really appreciate using cultural references to make a point during the homily. It livens things up and makes your sermon much more interesting and accessible. But please, no more movie spoilers at church. I’m quite sure Jesus would say that’s not cool.

Fisher of Men II

Last year I spent some time looking at the McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish commercial from a theological perspective. One need not be formally schooled in the bible to recognize its religious overtones. An excerpt:

The fish has been used to represent Christianity since the earliest days of the faith — and in the commercial the mechanical fish, like Jesus, is delivering a message. That the fish is mounted on wood –in the way Jesus is depicted on a crucifix– may be heavy-handed but is a reference to the most ubiquitous and powerful image in Christendom.

This year the bearded men, stand-ins for the Apostles Peter and Thomas, are eating their Filet-o-Fish sandwiches in Peter’s El Camino. El Camino, loosely translated, is Spanish for “the way” or “the path.” Do you think it’s a coincidence that the Apostle characters are sitting in a vehicle named “the way?”

The 2010 commercial once again references John 20:25, where Thomas is doubting the resurrection of Jesus. Yes, it has a modern twist, showing up on a Blackberry, but Thomas is clearly rejecting what he is being told, insisting on physical proof.

Perhaps in next year’s version of the commercial, we will see Thomas finally accept the resurrected Jesus (John 20:27-28). It makes sense that this will occur in the third commercial, for the number three holds deep spiritual meaning.

Like last year, I’m impressed that a major corporation would embrace the Lenten season at a time when public discussion about religion is discouraged. They could just sell fish sandwiches, but instead McDonald’s recognizes the true meaning of the season.

Praise the Lord and Pass the Purell

It’s hard not to think about swine flu when you’re standing on the communion line at church. There you are trying to reflect on the gift you are about to receive and somebody’s digging around in a bowl with their bare hands for a communion wafer. Very distracting. And as for the wine, I have one word for you: backwash.

This is something only the most hardcore germaphobes worried about in the past, but swine flu has been a game changer. Now how do you feel about people touching what you eat?

One local parish, St. James in Chatham, has gone on high alert. This from The Evangelist:

Some of the precautions taken at St. James were the recommendation that people nod to those outside of their family during the sign of peace. The parish also opted not to hold hands during the “Our Father.” Ministers of the Eucharist used hand sanitizers — discreetly, and not on the altar — before distributing communion, Father Gelfenbien said; and only Eucharistic bread was offered.

A little story: One time we were cooking hot dogs at the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby and a woman pointed out that nobody was wearing food service gloves. She was very knowledgeable about this from her work at the State Health Department and was just offering a helpful heads-up. “They could actually shut you down if they wanted to.”

That’s harsh, but rules is rules.

Look, until this whole flu thing blows over I’d say we have two choices: make the Eucharistic ministers wear food service gloves or put the Purell up there on the altar. See you in church.

Grow Up

Seriously, I really do try to act like an adult. You know, I go to work, pay my taxes, try to set a good example for my children —but sometimes the fourteen-year-old inside me cannot be completely suppressed. Like the other night.

I was sitting in church waiting for the May Procession to begin. This is where the kids from my son’s school recite the Rosary and put a crown on the statue of Mary. Thinking this would present some serious zone out time I chose a spot away from the crowd —but not so far away that it would look odd.

I got out my iPod and inserted only the left ear bud. This way no one in the church would see what I was doing. Then I took out my phone and started sending rude text messages to a guy I know who was sitting across the way.

While deep in the haze of the Felice Brothers and tapping out stupid texts Sister Mary Frederick stopped by my pew. She was the principal of the school when my older son went there and wanted to know how he was doing. As I fumbled with my headphone wire and tried to hide the phone I explained how he was finishing his junior year at college and preparing to spend the summer in National Guard training.

In other words, my son is getting an education and defending America —and his father is acting like an eighth grader.

If I were an actual eighth grader both items would have been confiscated and I probably would have gotten detention. Instead I just got to feel like an idiot.

And Who is this Agnes Day, Anyway?

No really, I do pay attention in church —but for years I’ve been mystified by one of those songs they sing every week. It comes up right around the time they’re doing the whole breaking bread thing and getting ready to hand out communion. All I could ever make out were the first few words:

“Are you staying…blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, ….” And so on.

Am I staying? Of course, I wouldn’t leave before communion. I’ll pass on the wine because I don’t care if they wipe off the chalice, handing that thing around to hundreds people seems a like a very bad idea. And then there’s the issue of backwash.

Anyhow, here I am listening to that song again —and again not getting it. I leaned over to my wife Ann recently and whispered, “What the hell are they singing?”

She handed me the song sheet that’s given out at the beginning of mass.

Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi, misere nobis.

That explains why I can’t understand it: it’s in Latin. Didn’t we get rid of Latin under Vatican II? Not that anyone cares what I think, but let’s just switch everything to English —and while we’re at it maybe it’s time to consider individual serving cups for the wine.