6:33am, I tip toed into the chapel and scanned the pews for an empty seat close to the exit. If Mass went longer than an hour, I would have had to sneak out to bring my daughter to school. I am not a devout Catholic who attended Mass every Sunday or made my daughter attend Sunday School. She has no emotional connection to attending church and I am fine with that. My own journey as a Catholic has had many more stops than starts. I identify with being Christian who went to a Catholic church but I also am a Catholic who wore a “Vote No on Proposition 8” button to mass at Our Lady of Angels Cathedral in Downtown LA. Little did I know that the priest was going to end Mass and tell his congregation to vote Yes on Proposition 8 to “restore marriage and protect children.” I left Mass that morning PISSED OFF and more frustrated than ever with the Catholic church.
Despite this, I consider myself to be more than a C&E (Christmas and Easter) Catholic because I believe in the fundamentals of what I learned from the church, my parents, and my grandparents:
• Love and protect your family.
• Always try to do the right thing.
• Be generous and help others in need.
• Respect your elders and care for all children.
And here is what I gleaned from those learnings:
• Everyone has a story to tell and something to teach me.
• Assume good intentions from others but watch your back.
• Do all things with Aloha and expect nothing in return.
My last memory of attending an Ash Wednesday service was while on a business trip in NYC. I always like to visit churches and cathedrals while in other cities. Architectural design interests and I appreciate how Catholic churches have a familiar look and smell (is that weird?) to me. When I walk into a church, regardless of where I am in the world, I get sense of who lives in the community. I scan for ethnic diversity, I listen for different languages/accents and honestly, I look at how people are dressed. It still shocks me to see people attending Mass in jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers. It shouldn’t, as I am sure the priests are happy to have butts in seats.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NY is iconic and honestly, I wanted to compare it to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Northern Ireland, where my brother was married. The two buildings looked very similar but the church in Ireland had this heavy energy of time weighing over it. It has seen war and weather and many more moons rise over it. Our young country can’t compare to Europe in so many ways. This long-standing essence of maturity is yet another difference. When we drove to the rehearsal, we travelled up one of the seven large hills in the city of Armagh. The front of the church was illuminated with gorgeous spotlights hidden in the landscaping. Couple that with Aaron Neville’s rendition of “Ave Maria” spinning in the CD player and we all took in a collective breath of admiration and wonder. The church was stunningly beautiful and seeing it gave me a sense of how serious the commitment my brother and now sister in law were about to make. Scary, scary serious and oh so permanent. Sorry, I digress.
Back to my personal Catholic journey….
During my elementary school years, I attended CCD after school on Wednesdays. This was the only time I ate Twinkies or Ho Ho’s (those were the rolled up ones, right?) which we received as a reward for paying attention during CCD. After all these years, I realize that I don’t even know what CCD stands for so I looked it up. Thank You, Wikipedia.
“The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine was an association established at Rome
in 1562 for the purpose of giving religious education. Its modern usage, often abbreviated CCD or C.C.D., is a religious education program of the Roman Catholic Church, normally designed for children.”
It must have been during second and third grades that I went to Mrs. Lavarato’s house for CCD. Her son, Chris, had been a classmate since kindergarten. Chris had thick dark hair and huge brown eyes, he looked like an adorable model for an Italian garden statue and all the girls crushed on him. His best friend was the other hottie who had blond hair and blue eyes, Shawn Jackson (or “SJ”) and he lived right across the street. They were excellent athletes and the cool kids at school. Also in our class was the sweet and sort of soft spoken JoAnn DiMaggio, who I am still in contact with on Facebook. I really love that JoAnn is happily married and posts about her attending pole dancing fitness classes. That so rocks. The four of us memorized prayers and read bible passages, all under the watchful eye of Mrs. Lavarato. Mr. Lavarato was a successful attorney in town and I remember thinking that they lived in a mansion. Mrs. L was always dressed to the nines, I think she shopped exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue. Her hair was jet black and sprayed into place with care. But her make-up always bugged me. She wore extra creamy foundation from Hollywood and too long of eye lashes with blue eye shadow. I always felt like she looked like a nice version of Cruella DeVil. And should Cruella DeVil really be teaching CCD to our youth? I keep getting off track here, I meant to write about Ash Wednesday.
Every year, Ash Wednesday falls on a different day but it always marks the first day of Lent and is 46 days before Easter Sunday. I hadn’t done the math before but since we always say that Lent lasts for 40 days, I wanted to figure out what happened to the other six days. Of the 46 days until Easter, six are Sundays. Sunday is the Sabbath for Christians and are not included in the fasting period and are instead “feast” days during Lent. So, boom. That’s why there are 40 days for Lent but 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter.
I also looked for a reminder of the “rules” for Lent. In the Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are observed by fasting, not eating meat, and repentance – a day of contemplating one’s transgressions. Fasting in this case refers to eating just one full meal a day, we don’t have to starve ourselves to follow this rule.
My goal during Lent is to take an action that will benefit others and help me break a bad habit or stop doing something that is not productive. In my case, I find that I use too many curse words. A well placed “F” word is acceptable from time to time but gratuitous swearing is not ladylike or classy, and I am all class, right? This year, I vow to try to stop cursing so much. At one point in my college career, I was an English major so I know that removing swear words will not limit my vocabulary. In fact, it should grow because I won’t be relying on cursing. I also want to give up alcohol because that will feel like a supreme sacrifice. Red wine is divine and whiskey sipping has fast become a favorite pastime. (Did I really just make that rhyme? Sorry.) Some of my friends give up carbs because they love bread, sugar and pasta and that is an appropriate sacrifice. Another friend gave up Facebook and never went back to it. We, as Catholics, are also expected to spend more time reflecting and praying. Lent is considered by many to be an opportunity for spiritual transformation.
It seems appropriate to include a quote from Sister Joan Chittister, Benedictine nun, author, speaker, and HufPo blogger. She wrote, “Lent is the opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not. Lent is not about penance. Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now.”
“Repent and believe in the Gospel” these are the strong words as I received my ashes this morning. My approach to Lent and to 2014 is to embrace the changes in my life, forgive myself for my short-lived marriage, and continue to fall in love with myself again. The last few years brought me down a path where I could have been content. I was in a marriage to very nice man who was a friend but not much more. There was no heat in the relationship. We might have had a baby together and lived as roommates for a lifetime. My passion for life was stifled. I could have been comfortable with complacency and just existed, living my life through my children. Instead, we walked away from the marriage early and I feel like the universe has sent me such much positive energy. As if some life force is hugging me tightly and protecting me from harm. I’ve been reminded of the passion I have for culture and movement. Martial arts brings me a sense of power, both physically and emotionally. I’ve begun to practice yoga and can already feel a difference in my running, hula, and karate. I feel happier than I have ever been, which makes me a better mother to my daughter. My heart is open to all that is coming my way. To my surprise, that includes having a very special man in my life who has only added to my happiness. Sister Joan Chittistqer wrote that “Lent is a summons to live anew.” I am all in to live life anew.