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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: Holy Week

Jesus-Picture-On-The-Cross-It-Is-Finished-Crucifixion-WallpaperMost Catholics consider Holy Week to be the highlight of the Church year. The events commemorated are the cornerstone of our fundamental beliefs and culminate in an occasion more glorious than the coming of the Word made Flesh that we celebrate each Christmas.

Needless to say as a child, I was not a fan.

First of all, NOTHING in a child’s mind is better than Christmas! I mean, Easter is great and all but it always struck me as a watered down version of a much better holiday. If Spring Break corresponds with it, that’s a little better, but you only get one week off instead of two. There is the half day on Good Friday that public school kids didn’t get and that was kind of fun, but again…it’s like a consolation prize for a shorter break. There are fun scavenger hunts to go on and a small cache of toys involved, but then you also have to endure seven weeks of sacrifice and an entire week of Massapalooza, which centers on a rather grisly death before you even get to the Main Event. I just had a hard time looking at Easter as a “happy” time.

Don’t get me wrong, I understood that Jesus died for my sins and Lord knows my teachers liked to point out how He made this big sacrifice for our benefit, but I have to tell you…I would have been fine with a less gruesome sign of His love. However, if you are going to do something to save the world, I guess you have to go big or go home, right?

With time and maturity, my attitude toward Holy Week has mellowed considerably and I am pleased to announce that I actually enjoy it nowadays, but not to the same level my youngest son does. If you think my reactions to all things church related are unique, this kid is going to seem downright peculiar!

Vincent     I can’t remember a time when “Boy Wonder” wasn’t wacky for Holy Week….or more specifically Good Friday. From the time he was very little, I would often catch him staring at the illustration of the crucifixion in his Kids’ Bible fascinated by this particular style of Roman execution. I’m not kidding, he had that page of the book open so much, he broke the spine at its location so if you stood the book on end, it would open to that scene.

“Wouldn’t you rather look at another picture?” I asked. “There’s a really nice picture of Baby Jesus in His manger bed.” Honestly, I wasn’t trying to dissuade his interest, I was just concerned this was going to become an obsession.

“No Mommy, I like this one,” he’d say.

Although there was nothing wrong with his enthusiasm, it occurred to me that it might be misinterpreted by others who didn’t understand or were unfamiliar with the prevalent images of the crucifixion that exist in the Catholic Church. Sure enough, when he was four, I took him to a local Christian church that was having a big Christmas event including barn animals and a live nativity and afterwards the congregation invited us to stay and hear “the rest of the story.” Now, I suspected I knew where this was heading, so I took the kids into the sanctuary to watch what I correctly surmised to be a passion play.

Everything started out fine. Jesus rode in on a live donkey while people waved palm branches and sang “Joy to the World (The Lord has Come)” Side note: I really kind of thought that was a cool tie-in and would pay big bucks to see a Catholic Church sing that song on Palm Sunday for a change. The scene then shifted to the last supper, Judas’ betrayal and the trial before Pilate, who of course, sentences Jesus to death.

As the actor playing Jesus was stripped of his garments and “nailed” to the prop cross, some women sitting in front of us became so moved by the scene that they started crying. Not Boy Wonder. With his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open, he picked that moment to holler, “Check it out, Mom! They’re stringing Him up!”

Now, I don’t want to imply that he was delighted by what he was witnessing…but he was. This was his illustrated Bible, Jesus of Nazareth and every other Gospel-based movie he’d ever seen brought to life. It was dramatic. It was wrenching. It was real! I cupped my hand over his mouth to shush him, lest anyone get the wrong idea, but I’m sure there were a few people in the audience who were convinced I was raising a heathen.

“You know, you really can’t get that excited about the crucifixion,” I explained later. “People get the wrong idea.They think you actually LIKE it.”

“I do like it,” he told me. “You can’t have Easter without it.”

Astonished by his simple wisdom, I knew that I had been beat and every year, I can count on him to get giddy over Holy Week knowing he will hear his favorite Bible story on Palm Sunday, announce “Today’s the big day!” on Good Friday and ask me  if I think they actually commemorate this event in Heaven. (I’m not being sacrilegious when I say I KNOW that kid has visions of party hats, balloons and a cake that says “Happy Crucifixion, Jesus!”) He actually gets excited if the weather is gloomy on that day because he is convinced it’s God’s way of reminding everyone about His son’s sacrifice and I have to admit, more often than not, it is kind of gross and rainy on that particular day. Who knows? Maybe he knows something the rest of us don’t.

They say that the worst punishment a parent can get is having a kid that acts just like them, but sometimes think the greatest gift is having those who are complete opposites, because every once in a while they teach you a thing or two with that child-like faith Jesus admired so much.

Happy Easter Everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: In Mass Entertainment

Mass kids     Last night I was in Mass, completely distracted by the family in front of me.  I do not hate children, nor do I have a problem with the occasional crying baby or fidgety kid…but this was something else entirely. These three made Huey, Dewey and Louie look like saints and could not stop dropping hymnals, lobbying for restroom breaks, sliding off the pew, banging their heads, poking, pushing, prodding each other, and of course there was that exciting round of Pass the Baby between the parents. To be perfectly honest with you, I never did figure out what the Gospel was about thanks to this group the only part of the homily I caught involved a story about beer, cheese, a German lady and a campfire, but I suspect there was a theological lesson in there somewhere…either that or a really bad punchline.

Now I appreciate the old adage “If you’re church isn’t cryin’ it’s dyin'” as much as the next person, but come on, when you’ve got a three-ring circus happening in the pew, no one’s having a good time. It made me wish more than ever that Catholic parishes had nursery rooms or Sunday School classes where kids could be dropped off and picked up at a parent’s leisure. My dad’s church had them and, quite frankly, I liked that a WHOLE lot better than sitting in Mass with my mom where everyone was taller than me, I didn’t get to participate in “snack time” and no talking was allowed. In Sunday School we sang, drew pictures, heard stories, ate cookies. I’m telling you… it was a heavenly experience.

Yes, Catholic churches have a “cry room”…a windowed space that for some reason reminds me of an aquarium or a People Exhibit at a local zoo…and some do have a children’s liturgy on Sunday, but the sheer volume of Masses that occur at a Catholic parish on a weekend make this impossible for every service. As a result, Mass goers in special VIP sections of the church are often treated to a unique brand of dinner theater which features an assortment of interpretive dance and and mime performance and can only be pulled off by the six-and-under-set.

bored       Now I was never that bad but I will say that I had my own brand of Pre-Mass and in-Mass entertainment that had a good-long run at my childhood parish. It was always low key but very effective and it kept the boredom from settling in. Generally speaking, it was also the kind of shenanigans that typically flew right under my mother’s radar (bonus!) While I have never shared my secrets before now, after last night, I feel I must spread the word so that others may learn from my knowledge. If you are a parent, or a particularly precocious child who can read and understand my blog, may I suggest the following activities:

  • Bug your mother for change so that you can light a candle. (Ordinarily playing with fire is forbidden so take this one while you can!)
  • Braid the bookmarks of the hymnal together. (This works especially well if there are multiple bookmarks in the hymnal otherwise some odd re-arranging must occur.)
  • If you are in the second grade or older, go to confession. (This not only kills time, but gives you an excuse to chat with someone.)
  • Ask your mom for a mint. (She always has them, don’t let her tell you otherwise.)
  • Read the Bulletin (Especially during the homily)
  • Stand on the kneeler to see better (Every kid does it…it’s OK! But don’t jump on it. Let’s have some class.)
  • Stare at the ceiling fan and then look away, noting that it always appears to rotate faster in your peripheral vision. (I have a feeling every adult is going to try this now that I have brought it up. LOL)
  • Tug on your mom’s arm until she let’s you put the envelope in the collection basket. (No one will believe that you really tithed, but you will feel oh-so-impressive)
  • Stare at the brightest stain glass window for 30 seconds then close your eyes to see a “ghost image” of it in your head.
  • Bring along the Mass book you received for First Communion and note that the word “lived” is “Devil” backward and look for other words that may have backward messages in them.
  • Play Guess the Saint with the statues then ask your mother who they are. (Delight in the fact that she doesn’t know either.)

Trust me, there is some Tomfoolery you CAN get away with in Mass, but subtly is the key here.You do not want to go for broke only to cause people to hate you prior to the Sign of Peace. As a former child myself, I can assure you, they aren’t giving you a big smile, they are gritting their teeth and biting their tongues to keep from telling you what they really think!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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