Not long ago I was asked by a friend why I still go to church given all my disagreements with official Catholic doctrine on homosexuality, married priests, divorce, women priests, etc.
My answer was that I go to connect with all the good people I grew up with at Sacred Heart. Also, for the Eucharist (which I see as taking in the Christ consciousness of love, compassion and forgiveness), to hear the homily, and, lately, sing in the choir.
I realize that to write about religion is to walk a fine line. On more than one occasion I’ve been accused of blasphemy for my use of satire and other forms of humor in writing about it. As in an anonymous post card I received years back that decried my “sad attempt at humor at the expense of Christianity” as well as charged me with demonstrating “a marked bitterness toward the Christian faith.”
Could it be this person did not like this story? A woman invited a large group of people to Christmas dinner. At the table, she turned to their six-year-old daughter and said, Would you like to say the blessing?
I don't know what to say, the girl replied.
Just say what you hear mommy say, the mother answered. The daughter bowed her head and said, Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?
Maybe … but most likely it was this: Lenny Bruce once said, “Every day people are straying from the church and going back to God.” Anyone who’s dealt with a shame-spewing minister or priest — or had to endure religious doctrine devoid of love, compassion and acceptance — can likely relate to this. Also Mohandas Gandhi’s assertion, “God has no religion.”
The person who was best at the subtle use of humor (sometimes in questioning the hierarchy and infallibility of the church) was my departed Assumption Abbey monk friend, Father Ted. On one visit, after I mention my difficulty in accepting something derogatory the pope (Benedict) had said about Buddhism, he said, “You know, J.T., I don’t know what gets into that guy sometimes.”
Another time, when I arrived for an Advent retreat and informed Ted that I had been phoned by readers and asked to bring back ten abbey fruitcakes for their Christmas tables, he looked at me with a wry smile and quipped, “Now J.T., you haven’t been writing in your column that Jesus liked to eat fruitcake have you?”
As for the meaning of Christmas, Trappist monk Thomas Keating says that its joy is the awareness that all limitations to growth into higher states of consciousness have been overcome. That the divine light of Christ cuts across all darkness, prejudice and hypocrisy to present us with the truth that the humdrum duties and events of daily life are sacramental.
Getting back to the choir, we’ve been striving the past few weeks to learn some new songs for Christmas Mass. At any given moment, while one or two of us is a little off key or missing a beat (most times, me), the rest are getting it right. We carry one another though the rough spots.
It seems to me a congregation is meant to do much the same. That is, provide a community of people who can support one another on their spiritual journey. A diverse congregation, some of whom can “keep the faith” when others in it are struggling with theirs.
And, of course, share a good laugh now and then.
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J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and celebrant. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Training in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 620-231-0499, firstname.lastname@example.org, or 401 W. Euclid, Pittsburg, KS 66762