April 18, 2011

Catholics Come Home: A Cautionary Tale

Forgive me for I know not what I do.
And can I have a pony?
The Catholic Church has spent considerable marketing effort to lure lapsed Catholics back to church with its "Catholics Come Home" campaign. In it, they make an appeal to those who have been away to come back and rediscover how the Church can enrich their lives. Our family goes to church enough not to feel that this is message is directed at us per se, but we do have the occasional "attendance dry spells" that seem to happen when life gets in the way of securing our position in the after-life.

Giving Up Not Going To Church

In additional to the traditional "giving up soda" offering during the Lenten season, we decided to give up not going to mass. It started out good and we made it to Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is a great way to break back into the Church going mode because its not a full mass. Plus the "dirt" on everyone's heads is enough to distract the kids enough to keep them in the pews for 45 minutes.

Depending on how Catholic you are, sometimes you can convince yourself that going to Ash Wednesday mass counts as Church for the week (since technically it is not a holy day of obligation). We are just unholy enough to subscribe to this justification so we missed the next Sunday. The following Sunday we had an out of town birthday party, which according to my Catholic school graduate wife, somehow trumps Church. I think it has something to do with serving your fellow man, but either way, no one complained.

If You're Coming Home, Check the Liturgical Calendar

The combined guilt of years of Catholic school had finally burdened us enough that we resolved to go to mass this past Sunday. Per usual, we arrived about 5 minutes late to mass. Normally, this is actually a good thing, as we can sneak in the back and then are properly positioned to leave right after communion. This is an expert Catholic move that can only be perfected by years of practice. The trick is to wear your coat to communion. You can't go back in the pew to get it...you'll get trapped. That's a classic mistake.

As we walked into Church the unusually large crowd gave me pause. When I looked down, I realized that we were in big trouble. It was Palm Sunday!

Growing up, Palm Sunday was the one chance a year to practice your basket weaving skills without ridicule. Since the mass usually runs twice as long due to the reading of the Passion, you have more than enough time to convert a handful of palms into all kinds of handy things. I usually make bracelets. My kids lack the dexterity (and patience) for the fine are of weaving, so when they see the palms they see one thing....church swords.

At Least We Got Great Seats

It was a packed house, which usually means standing in the back, however, my 5-year old was eager to point out the empty front row seats. Before I could say a word, she took off down the aisle, interrupting the homily, as we apologized and crept behind her.

Her enthusiasm in the front row was not based on religious fervor, it was driven by her disturbing new interest in pantomime. She likes to mirror all the movements the priest makes during mass. At certain times it can be highly inappropriate, but most of the time it's very cute.

The Danger of Being Reverent

Trying to atone for our tardiness, the disruption, and my daughter's pantomime of the Passion of the Christ, I bowed my head to offer up heartfelt prayers. After completing a few Hail Mary's and several pleas for more patience as a father, I had a good feeling that someone was watching over me.

While bowing your head is a universal sign of reverence, it leaves your parenting quite compromised. When I looked up, I realized that the feeling that someone was watching over me was not as spiritual as I has hoped. Before me stook the priest pointing his finger at floor. Slightly confused I looked at my daughter, who, not breaking character, was also pointing in the same direction. Following their fingers, I finally saw what he was getting at. My 2-year-old son drawing on the floor. He had spent the length of my prayer channeling an inverse Michelangelo.

I would later learn my wife had put the Sharpie in her purse to keep it away from him, but she had take our middle-child to the bathroom, leaving the Sharpie unguarded. So I spent the next 30 minutes trying to nonchalantly remove permanent maker from a marble floor using nothing but baby wipes and my foot.

Forgive Thy Neighbor

Thankfully, part of being Catholic is that strong sense of forgiveness that you are compelled to show your neighbors. The priest was very gracious about the incident and assured me that both he and God would forgive me. Although, he said he could not speak for our church's historical curator.

So, as many lapsed Catholics are sneaking into Church for their bi-annual (Christmas and Easter) obligations, I offer a few warnings on the dangers of being too late, sitting too close, and being too reverent. And for God's sake, never leave the house with a Sharpie!

Happy Easter.