Yesterday, I went to meet a friend for dinner. She was going to church first, and I figured, well, the church is on the way to her house, so why not stop by there? Being a semi-practicing Catholic, my friend goes to mass regularly. As I had not visited the Lord's home in a while, I thought, I'll just drop in and say "Howdy, Jesus, how's it hanging?"
"I love what you've done with the place. Are those stained glass windows?"
"Wine and crackers? Why, yes, please. It'll go great with these loaves and fish. You made the wine yourself? No, really? It's fantastic! Mmmm...why a sip of that and I feel like I can walk on water!"
"Judas? Well, I know, I know! I shouldn't judge, but I don't care if he is Mediterranean! That kiss on the side of my cheek when he greeted me, I swear I felt his tongue lick the side of my face! For a second there, I thought he was going to rim out my earhole! Oh, and have you checked out how he pimped out his ride? Where ever did he get the money to put silver plated rims on his chariot?"
"As always, you're such an amazing host, always sacrificing yourself for others; I love your dinners! Truly, you are heaven sent!"
Since going to mass was important to my friend, it was, therefore, important to me to at least show her my support. The church was packed, and it was standing room only. I did not yet see my friend, but that was okay. I would call her after the service.
I had almost forgotten how beautiful the inside of Catholic churches are--with the many statues of the baby and crucified Jesus, the Virgin, and various Apostles and angels and religious figures. Then there is the sweet, subtle intoxicating scent of burning incense. A soft light emanates from the many burning candles throughout the church. Of course, there is the beautiful iconography of stained glass windows telling the stories that have guided (at times, been misinterpreted to mislead) the faithful.
Now, I'm not a Catholic; but I'm not a Protestant either in the truest sense anymore--though I was born and raised Congregationalist, the religion of the American Thanksgiving Pilgrims, who fled religious persecution from those spotted dick eating Englishmen. I did however, go to Catholic school before middle school, and I do remember my Hail Mary, the Rosary, and the rituals associated with mass. I can genuflect and Sign with the best of them. I also remember the terror of those mean teaching nuns. Unlike Maria or Sister Mary Clarence, these nuns didn't sing and dance. The only sound heard consistently in the halls was the echoes of yard sticks smacking down hard on the open palms of children as punishment--for the many offenses often made unintentionally.
As I looked around this crowded church, I realized how lax the dress code had become. Growing up, going to church (any church) meant I had to wear a pressed shirt, a tie, trousers and polished shoes. These people around me were decked out in Bermuda shorts, sandals, and halter tops. I fit right in this crowd, and no, it wasn't because I was wearing shorts, sandals, and a halter top! I was wearing a t shirt, my Levi's, and running shoes. If my mother had been there to see me, she would've been horrified at way I was dressed. Mom would've probably pulled out a switch and start spanking me, but luckily, she's getting on in years and I would've simply run out of the reach of the cursed, stinging branch.
The lax in dress code, however, did not signal the lack of Roman Catholic zeal. I listened to the sermon, and as it was the day to remember human dignity, the topic, of course, was abortion. Abortion, said the priest, was as wrong and evil as stem cell research. Abortion, he said, has killed millions of children and ruined many lives. Stem cell research is against the laws of God. The more he preached, the angrier I got, and I remembered why I broke away from secular religion so long ago when I was in high school. Isn't it funny how churches fight to defend zygotes, proclaiming life is precious, and yet they have done nothing to end the death penalty? If all life is precious, why aren't the churches mobilizing to put an end to state sanctioned murder? And if protecting the life of children is so important, then why the hell has the Church destroyed these children by feeding them to pedophile priests that the Church still protects to this day?!
As these angry thoughts swirled in my head, I looked around the packed church and thought, My God, so many of these people are children. How many of them are buying into this crap?! I felt as if I was about to lose my composure and speak up, so I thought about leaving, as the church is no place to start an argument. Rather, it's a place where the faithful seek refuge and solace. I was about to walk out that door in huff when I remembered why I had come in the first place: My friend was there, and I was here to meet her.
The thought of my friend made me realize something. Though she goes to mass regularly and has an alter of the Virgin at her home, my friend has been there for others the Church would've had her shun. She was with another friend who had an abortion--the one who had the abortion told us, not my Catholic friend. She volunteers at an AIDS/HIV center, helping out mostly gay men. She has supported many of our mutual GLBT friends over the years. While it may seem that this Catholic girl is breaking the Church's laws, in reality, she is keeping the most important law of all: The Golden Rule, do unto others and you would have them do unto you. All man made Church laws are null and void when faced with the teachings of Christ.
I've sometimes wondered why my friend still goes to mass when she obviously does not listen to what her priest is telling her to think and do. Then I realized, that perhaps, it wasn't so much as the need to feel a sense of belonging among like minded worshipers. Rather, she needed a place to be close to God, a place she identifies as a refuge from worldly life, to contemplate her existence, to reevaluate her choices, to just be near something so much greater than she or the entire world.
As the service let out, the priest was in front of the church steps, saying good bye to the flock. I swear, when I shook his hand, he did a quick look down on me for a crotch check before he looked into my eyes and said good bye; then he did another crotch check! Now, some of you doubting Thomases are thinking, why in the world would a priest want to check out someone who's obviously been out of puberty years ago and shaving facial hair? Trust me, it happened. And just because I was a wearing white t shirt that clung to my chest, showing off my nipples and wearing no underwear under my skin tight Levis showcasing my bulge does not mean that I was asking to be oogled or seeking attention! I'm a human being, dammit! Treat me with some respect! I am not some whore!
As I was heading for the parking lot, I heard my friend calling my name before I could even reach the phone. She looked surprised and happy to see me, and I was really glad that I had decided to come to church to see her. We met up with her other family and had a last supper of sorts at an incredible Thai restaurant. Her relatives were heading out of town the next day, and I was smart enough to avoid the cilantro in the delicious Thai food I ate. As I sat there, eating and laughing, I thought to myself, it's always an interesting experience whenever I visit God's house. I never know what happens next, but that's the mystery of life.