I was raised Catholic.
In my family, this meant my sisters and I were dragged to church every Sunday by my very Catholic grandfather, “Papa”. When I say ‘very Catholic,’ I mean he had a rosary and a bible in his nightstand (next to his Scotch), drank and swore like a sailor, frequented the dog track, moonlighted as a bookie and wouldn’t take communion, because that was a “good time to go and get the car started.” I should also mention we attended the 10 o’clock mass at Sacred Heart, because the service was only thirty minutes, a sprint compared to the hour and fifteen minutes at our other church. Why the discrepancy? This mass was communicated completely in French. And, non, we don’t parlez a word of the Français. Vive La Différence! Papa would use Mass as a good time to catch up on some Zzz’s and my sisters and I would play tic-tac-toe in the weekly bulletin. We would leave as soon as we had taken communion, to ‘beat the rush’ to breakfast. You get the picture.
Needless to say, right from the beginning, I was clearly not provided with a good example of what religion was all about. I quite literally didn’t understand a thing the priest was saying.
I needed to start my story with my religious beginnings, because it helps to explain why I am so confused by it now. I have let whatever religion I once had in my life disappear. I haven’t been in a church since the last wedding/funeral I attended. I haven’t prayed to anyone or anything since I stopped playing sports competitively. I have been blessed with my grandfather’s affinity for swearing and drinking, I’m currently living in sin, the list goes on and on.
However, every year, when Ash Wednesday rolls around, I immediately resort back to my Catholic upbringing and give up something for Lent. The Lenten season is something Catholics observe as an homage to the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the desert. I think.
My Papa was adamant about us following this lent situation, and to show us how serious he was about it, he would give up meat. On Wednesdays. Every other week. And, note, bacon and pork chops didn’t count as meat. We would tell him every year, “Papa, maybe you should give up Scotch for Lent.” And every year he would respond, “Jesus Christ, what are you trying to do, kill me?”
Me and Papa. Chick A on the far left in one of the earlier instances of photobombing.
In the past few years, I have drawn my boyfriend into this perplexing religious exercise. His religious upbringing was about as solid as mine. Case in point, when his father enrolled in a military academy down South,the application had asked what religion he practiced. He couldn’t spell Episcopalian, so he wrote ‘Baptist.’ Needless to say, the first day in a southern Baptist church for a kid from the North was quite a surprise.
For the forty days of Lent, my boyfriend and I give up cheese. This might sound ridiculous to some, but to me, cheese is the one food I can’t live without. When it’s ‘that time of the month’ (and calories don’t count), most ladies march themselves to the candy or cookie aisle of the grocery store, while I go straight to the dairy department. I then ask the monger (when you’re an enthusiast, you learn the lingo), ‘what is the proper amount of cheese to provide at a dinner party for 12?’ I take that number, double it, and that’s my meal.
We usually take our annual Caribbean vacation in the spring, which coincidentally coincides with Lent every year. And every year, we ‘cheat’ a little bit. I don’t know who exactly we are cheating, I should probably know that, but it is impossible to go to a French island and not sample all the fancy cheeses on offer.
I was speaking to my dad on the phone the other day, and there are 3 topics we can generally cover before an awkward silence ends the conversation; women’s basketball, the Yankees, and any car issues I might be having. However during this last exchange, he asked me about my trip. I told him I ‘broke Lent’ and ate cheese 6 times. I could have told him a lot of other things about my vacation, but my Catholic guilt got the best of me, and that’s what I chose to confess tell him. He proceeded to tell me that was against the rules, and I ‘can’t do things like that’. This from a guy who has been divorced twice, hasn’t been to church in 40 years, and who, let’s just say, has some very un-Christian views on the world.
I will always give up something for Lent, even though I don’t thoroughly understand why. I also don’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent, another odd Catholic tradition I do not fully understand, but abide by. I understand it’s some sort of ode to Jesus, for everything he sacrificed, but me giving up cheese for forty days doesn’t really translate into not eating anything and sitting in solitary in the desert for forty days. Really, it just makes things more thorny than they need to be.
Case in point, Chick A and her bf are coming for dinner Friday night, and my boyfriend has the challenge of finding the perfect restaurant that will suit us all. Chick A and her bf have their own ‘dietary restrictions’ due to their Paleo lifestyle, and we have to deal with the Lenten terms and conditions. My bf, who lives for telling people what restaurants to go to, said to me today in an increasingly frustrated tone, ‘is there anything harder than picking a restaurant to go to with Chick A and her bf on a Friday, during Lent?’
I then flash-backed to an episode of The Office, where Michael was firing the most difficult questions he could to the concierge, trying to stump her. “How about this one? It’s Christmas eve—and everything’s closed and you need to get some dry cleaning done. 12:00 midnight. Where do you go? What do you do??”
I don’t think I did what I set out to do when I started writing this article, which was to clear up what the Lenten season represents. If anything, I am sure I just confused you further. Welcome to the club!
I think I do it because my Papa would have wanted me to continue with it, because for some reason, it was really important to him. He’s been gone for several years, but I still make my annual 40 day sacrifice and wear an Easter dress for him every year (although, I have graduated from JC Penny’s).
I hope he is up there, watching me sweat through these forty days with no cheese, and that he’s proud of me for the Catholic I turned out to be. One, that’s just like him.
Happy Palm Sunday!
(Maybe my next Guest Blog can explain Palm Sunday…maybe…)
Me in the white dress and bonnet, Chick A in the super sweet black and white blazer.
(Other Chicks in this pic include: Chicks J, S, S and L.)