I attended a mass this past Sunday that was meant to honor a woman I love. I arrived and immediately lit a candle. The candles are different now than they were when I was a child. You no longer light a wax coated wick with a wooden stick. Now, you insert your money into the metal or wooden tackle box that’s mounted by the statue of whichever patron saint the church is named after. Then you press a button and there you have your lit prayer candle for whatever allotted time a prayer is supposed to last until now-a-days. How do they get that time? I imagine there’s an angel or soul of a saint somewhere with a stopwatch who clocks the average time someone needs to soak up God’s divine grace.
Deciding my need for grace was then and now, I looked upon all these buttons. It’s like the table top of an arcade game that gives your pixelated eternal soul the power-move prayer to destroy all evils and demons that attempt to corrupt you. All for just $2 non-tax refundable.
My knees bend and I am elbows up with hands gripped together. Oh wait, I need not forget to make the sign of the cross before my adult peers judge me. Judging in church? I know. I close my eyes and try to focus. The smell here takes me back to older Sundays some years ago when the family was still a pack and we’d move through the isles, a noticeable force that had a usual sitting area. Looking at the ceramic face of this statue, I begin my prayer. I miss her, I need her, I love her, I thank her. I stand.
Finding a seat in the back where all non-practicing holiday Catholics and runaway-now-returned repenters hull up, I find a seat. I am either one that fits for the moment. While sitting down, I realize I am actually interested to see what happens with the homily during this mass. Having had an interesting and sad turn of events this week in the U.S. of America, I figured there would be huge talking points and a heavy message that would help me make sense of all the turmoil and hate going on.
That never came. The mass was standard. Mom with baby who always smiled and walked out when it was fussy, typical Latino and Filipino families who sat across from me and looked very proud, the puffy haired old women who sang out choruses and hymns, and the awkward moving alter boys (and girl…progressive, I know) nervously focusing on their candle flames, hoping to not accidentally breathe on it and snuff it out. The gospel was a trite passage of the Good Samaritan and the homily only glazed over the idea that your neighbor is who you may least likely expect but should look after and because of that we should love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. Thereafter, the priest gave out the Eucharist and when mass was ended he made sure to send out second collection baskets and inform us that this was going toward the education and recruitment of new members and members of the flock that have strayed. Meanwhile, I sat in the back chewing cud and bleating noticeably.
Clearly, I am no big bad wolf, but having not been to church since January when my mom last visited, I openly admit that there is a reason people are leaving the Catholic church. There is a reason why as someone who has turned away from my faith, yet nostalgically holds on to it like a frail hand squeezing the thin slipping kite-line under an immense gust of original sin, I wouldn’t recommend anyone to this church, let alone explain why the faith is something to be had. Now, that may hurt or concern many of my readers who are close to me, it’s an honest truth that I am openly living with and have faced many strangers with when the question is posed in coversation. Shocking to move to California and have open healthy discussion of faith, religion, and life, wow.
I asked myself over and over again on my way home, “Why hadn’t the priest spoken about the relevant world events? Alton Sterling/Philandro Castile/ Turkey bombings etc.?” Maybe he knew his crowd and had decided against touching on taboo subjects like these due to harsh feedback from parishioners. But I countered that thought with the thought that as a church leader he should be bold, it’s his duty to be be evangelical in his beliefs and the positive effect God would/should have on it’s congregation and how it is to act in times like this.
I didn’t get that response though. Instead I was asked to give the church more money and tell my friends about the growing love of God’s grace, yada-yada-yada. After this experience I went home and explained to my girlfriend how dissatisfied I was and afterward I thought to myself, how dare I be upset. I don’t attend mass every day. Why should I deserve to just pop up and expect to be moved by something someone says? So I stayed trying to contemplate the issues I was feeling within myself and am left with resentment and confusion. I’ve stressed before that I am not a super religious person but having grown up in the faith, I still look to it and base my morals and ethics around what I once learned. A lot of people may feel like this is where the problem is, you can’t have a backpack Jesus faith that you take off and put on when it’s convenient. But maybe that’s just it. Maybe I’m just not ready to accept body armor Jesus because there is this whole new world of questions and qualms that come with it.
I‘ve always felt like I was a good person. I needed to grow up a little and accept my faults for what they were and fix them but I never wanted to be the super religious kind of person. There was always a stigma to that, which is a bit ironic. Christians can bring that upon themselves at times. They are so on fire for Jesus that they can overwhelm their unintended audiences and even intended audiences with the flames and burn people out that way (pun intended). With that being said, I guess I just like the good news in strong, meaningful doses regardless of the medium as opposed to the in your face, dull drumbeat that has become the Catholic church. I try to respect all Christian based religions and even non-Christian based ones like Islam, Judaism, etc. Knowing people of different cultures has helped me get a sense of world outside of my Roman Catholic Mexi-Rican/American childhood bubble. Plus with all the wars that have gone on for centuries over who’s god rules, it makes me not want to advocate for a side.
Now, on occasion, I attend ceremonies that are of different religious backgrounds in respect for those unlike myself. But like I said I don’t seek religion out unless it is on occasions like honoring a dead relative. I don’t really know what I expected to get out of this little rant but, it felt good to air out the thoughts I have been having for quite some time. Maybe there’s someone out there who has the answer I am looking for. If you think you do, great. I’ll hear you. If you relate, great. I thank you for seeing me. I may be able to create a dialogue from this that can help others beyond myself. Who knows?
Much love and positivity!
-Gabriel Antonio Valtierra