I am a Catholic. I was baptized and confirmed in this Church, and for the better part of my life, participated in its services. However, I am a lazy Catholic, and I have gone through periods where I did not feel that the church was offering me spiritual guidance; instead, I felt the underlying agenda of an economic and a political system. I know that the Catholic Church is the wealthiest organization in the world, and the constant badgering for more money offends me. Similarly, the cover-ups, the lies, and the rationalizations these people make for their own behaviors, creates a deafening roar that makes it impossible for me to hear what they are saying at times. When I feel these frustrations, going to the actual church for service seems more like a chore. In the past, I have gone weeks, months, and even years without attending an actual mass.
Even without entering the actual dwelling place, I still feel that I am spiritual. I live my life by the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” For those of you who are not religious, it’s the same idea as “what comes around goes around.” I believe if you do well, speak well, and treat others fairly, those same aspects will come back to you. Likewise, I speak with God regularly, and I am thankful for all that I have.
This morning, I went to mass for the first time in many months. Maggie is a cheerleader, and the cheer squad and the football teams all attended mass together. Getting out of the car, I was actually looking forward to it. Like anything, when I step away, I always feel like maybe my last impression was more about my interpretation and not reality. I am an optimist. I hope for the best.
The priest began mass by greeting the children and wishing them well in their respective sports. Standing, praying, singing, and listening were followed by the Gospel according to Luke (13). In this passage, Jesus is preaching, and he tells the people,
24 ‘Try your hardest to enter by the narrow door, because, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed.
25 ‘Once the master of the house has got up and locked the door, you may find yourself standing outside knocking on the door, saying, “Lord, open to us,” but he will answer, “I do not know where you come from.”
Hearing this, I immediately felt angry. I truly believe that ALL good people will get into heaven. It does not matter if you are Catholic or Hindu or Muslim or atheist, for that matter. If you follow the rules of God in your heart, you will be welcomed.
The gospel ended, and I waited for the priest to deliver a homily about God’s vengeance and anger. But he did not say any of that. He talked about the brave Christians in Egypt who have not fled the area even though they are under religious persecution. He compared our lives in America, in the land of the free, in the realm of prosperity, to that of people who feel real fear and real struggle.
He then challenged me (us) to take stock of my life, of my priorities. He reminded me that materialism does not make me happy, that being kind to people does. He reminded me that if I hurt someone, I need to bury the hatchet, release the grudge, and do my best to try and treat others with kindness, respect, and most importantly, love.
As he spoke, I shut my eyes and I prayed. In actuality, I have been carrying around ill-will toward a few people who have done me wrong. I have been holding grudges. I have felt anger and hostility, but it has come at a cost. It has been a heavy load to carry. Instead of saying it does not matter and moving on, I have held on. In addition, even though I apologized to someone I hurt, I have never felt that I have forgiven me, and I have been living with the guilt of inflicting pain.
I knew I needed to speak to God, and I needed it to come from my heart. I prayed for forgiveness for the hurt and pain I inflicted. I prayed for a clear heart to release any anger and hate. I prayed for lightness. I prayed for compassion and patience and love.
I opened my eyes. A beam of light suddenly filtered through the stain glass window, and it caught my eye. It was not there a minute earlier. It was strong and warm.
I felt forgiven. I felt lighter. I felt happier. I felt peace.