It’s another Sunday here in Hertfordshire, England. We went to church last night. As we left, this post began to come to my mind.
I’ve never been what my late mother used to call “crazy Catholic.” She wasn’t either; but she wasn’t really vocal about either her belief or disbelief. She accepted communion in the hospital days before she died, but she almost never went to church and I had only a vague understanding of her opinions on religion: whatever they were, she kept them pretty much to herself.
In comparison, someone else we loved could be vocal and opinionated – which I had long known and had even fictionalized in the Atlantic Lives novels. I’ve also been told a story about my mother and my now late novelist uncle about ten years ago together at a family funeral (I could not attend) in America. Sitting in a pew alongside my essentially atheist uncle who muttered disdainfully to her a bit too loudly, “Geez, you really believe this bulls-it…”, others around them overheard my mother slam him in response under her breath: “Shut the hell up. Be respectful or go in the back and stand in a f-ckin’ corner.”
I still don’t know what I think about it all, but we do attend mass weekly. And when we travel over a weekend, we always try to make church. It is a wonderful way of getting a sense of a local community – especially when abroad. In fact, often I remember more about churches and the people I meet there than tourist sites and restaurants.
We’ve ended up witnessing a baptism in a French village parish – seeing the smiling parents and families and being a small part of it all made that trip extra special.
Once, in Spain, we realized it was not an “ordinary” Sunday when as we approached the church we could not but fail to notice much of the congregation was standing around outside dressed like a fashion photo shoot was imminent. “You don’t have your tux and I don’t have my stilettos,” my wife chuckled. We had blundered into a confirmation.
Also in Spain, leaving an Easter Sunday mass, a Spanish priest shook my hand and wished me Happy Easter in Spanish, but a moment later offered Happy Easter to my wife in English: “Sure, he thought you are Spanish, but not me. Why not?” she laughed as we walked way – knowing her red hair and freckled complexion perhaps had influenced his assumption.
Similarly in Italy, she likes to joke: “They always think you’re Italian…until you open your mouth, then they get a shock.”
In Puerto Rico a few months ago, in a small church in Vieques, a local woman, clearly sensing we were not locals, walked up to us moments before mass began and unprompted handed us an English language missal. “Hello. You want?” sweetly she asked. We could NOT but smile and feel welcome.
Exactly 100 years ago, former president Theodore Roosevelt shared in a now famous interview some ten reasons why he felt weekly church attendance is a good idea. I always liked this one:
Yes, I know all the excuses. I know that one can worship the Creator and dedicate oneself to good living in a grove of trees, or by a running brook, or in one’s own house, just as well as in church. But I also know as a matter of cold fact the average man does not thus worship or thus dedicate himself. If he strays away from church, he does not spend his time in good works or lofty meditation. He looks over the colored supplement of the newspaper.
You may not believe a word of the dogma; and that’s understandable. I find it all rather a tall order myself. But, as Roosevelt would say, how much of it is true is not the point.
Psychologically, it is refreshing. Especially if I’ve had a bad week, I feel better in mass and for some time afterwards. It lifts my spirits. (Uh, no pun intended.)
In the 1700s, Benjamin Franklin felt that although Christianity was probably not true, it was necessary for the sort of world he liked. When I was younger, I didn’t really get what Roosevelt or Franklin were talking about. Older now, I think I much better understand them.
Have a good Sunday, wherever you are. 🙂