Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I'm about as Cafeteria Catholic as they come, so why give anything up for Lent?

Have puzzled over it for years. I had a tumultous growing-up which ended with the two biggest acts of defiance I could muster: quitting the Church two weeks before being confirmed and moving out of state. During and after College, I experimented with religions like some young people do with drugs, sex, vegetarianism. Am not quite sure what I was looking for: a magic mix of tolerance, ceremony and good music, perhaps? Whatever the reasons, I always found myself sneaking off to get my ashes and later palms and I always found myself giving something up for Lent.

There's something about the season which steels the resolve and aids in success. Forty days isn't forever, but it's still a relatively long time. Abstainers band together and edge each other on in subtle ways. Sometimes it just feels good to deny yourself something you really enjoy and giving the proceeds to someone who really needs it.

The ritual (borne of necessity - the Church instituted the period of fasting at the time when the food stores were at their lowest and starvation of parishioners or revenue sources would be the most likely; a public health policy of willing spirit pulling along weak flesh) links me to other practitioners over the millennia. I feel a sense of structure and a deeper network of roots than what the family's put down in this continent.

I am about as Cafeteria as they come, but I am Catholic. Have tried hard to weed it out, but it keeps coming back.

Oh, here we go! Like I said, Catholics of the world unite! (probably not work safe)


Pablo said...

Growing up, with more than a little brain in me, I concluded that all religions are humanly generated fictions. I grew impatient with all those so lacking in critical sense as never to evince the least approach to the same realization.

Growing older, and sensing something of the pervasive imperfection of people and sadness of things, I realized too without abandoning anything of the foregoing that to call something a fiction is not to call it a fallacy or a fraud or a foolishness. Now I grow impatient too with those so lacking in taste as to seek to offend the inoffensive, so deficient in feeling as never to wish even sometimes to indulge a suspension of their own disbelief, so arrogant in their rationalism as never to think that just maybe tradition persists as tradition because it is wiser than any of us individuals in its tacit way, so utopian as not to think that the sense of sin and shame might at the very least have utility and not just be a memeplague.

I don't know where this maturation will end, but for now I would say I am an atheist yet with enough conservative inclination to take a stance of enlightened tolerant hypocrisy toward most religion. I can't deny that there is an unresolved tension in this position. I have never stated all of this to the simple, sententious believers in my own family and I am not so easy a hypocrite as to pretend a return to faith just to make them happy when we are gathered. No, I am afraid I am still the peevish adolescent sort of doubter when they try too hard to obtrude the call back to their faith upon me.

I can't wish you a "happy" Ash Wednesday, since that is out of keeping with the spirit of the day.

Remember that you are dust, and that to dust you must return. Or, meditate on the First Noble Truth if that is your preference.

Be said...

This was very nice - you've grown a lot since I first met you and you declared that I was the least stupid humanities person you knew.

You and I both take things on faith - my faith (more like Pascal's Bet with a good dose of Reverend Spong mixed in) tends towards there being a God. Your faith tends towards there not being one. Religion's only a set of rules (Sanskrit roots meaning taboos, some say), a formalizing of the fundamental beliefs with some showiness around it. It's funny that, since living North of the Charles, I've met many Atheists who are far more dogmatic/fundamentalist than the most conservative of Catholics I've run across. Could be Cambridge's Methodist roots, could be that some mindsets are less catholic than others. Dunno.

Anyway, thanks for the reminder of that First Noble Truth, and thanks for celebrating a Cafeteria style Ash Wednesday with me! Your mom and dad would be pleased with your having opted for the fish fry.