You have heard; you have seen; perhaps today you even bear the ashes on your head; perhaps you didn’t, or you wiped them off at the church door. It doesn’t matter! What matters is what you do, and if you remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return, then you’ll realize that we are all dust! And we are all deserving, we are all going down, in the end, to the same place, and it’s high time we started sharing the joy of the experience rather than fearing we won’t have enough accumulated for ourselves at the end! Where is your treasure? Where rust corrodes and thief steals and moth devours? Get rid of it! Your treasure is in the homeless person you can help, in the hungry person you can feed, in the naked person you can clothe! Your treasure is all around you; now put your heart there, and open the eyes of your spirit, and see it!
We’ve been lucky in a mild winter this year. We’ve been lucky in a winter that feel shorter than in years past, that feels more like an endless November than our usual endless frozen January. I have a window open today, and yesterday it was still fully light at 5, and usually I’m thinking around this time that the winter will never end and we might not survive it. This year I’m thinking maybe it’s almost over, and we will.
I said to my mother the other day, when we were talking about a project I’m working on involving the ugliness of the church, that the reason I call myself a practicing Catholic is that I”m not very good at it. It’s glib but it’s true, and my most frequent prayer is, “I’m trying here, Dude, cut me some slack already.” It’s easy to confuse ritual and repetition with the point, and I’m good at the point but not at the ritual. Some instinctive resistance to authority, maybe, or just the subsconscious desire to fuck something up so that I have something to beat myself up about? As it is, I’m not making it to church all that often, and when I am, I’m distracted.
None of this is helped, of course, by the sad spectacle of the church attempting to smash itself on the rocks of contemporary American sexual politics, evidencedmost profoundly by shit like this:
At her mother’s funeral mass at the St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, Md., a grieving Barbara Johnson was the first in line to receive communion.
What happened next stunned her. The priest refused Johnson, who is gay, the sacramental bread and wine.
“He covered the bowl with the Eucharist with his hand and looked at me, and said I cannot give you communion because you live with a woman and that is a sin in the eyes of the church,”Johnson told ABC News affiliate WJLA.
And this is so clearly the opposite of the point that it makes my vision go white with anger: That altar, that table, is a place of profound and radical equality. We come to that place tarnished and damaged, all of us, and all of us the same, and if there is a test in that place it’s the test of those giving and not those receiving communion. We are all the Stranger in someone’s eyes, all the Other. We are all the undeserving. Throw the first stone, bitches, I dare you, because we will all, someday, approach a door behind which could be welcome or condemnation and our only forlon fucking hope is that we meet with treatment we do not deserve.
The stories in the Bible, at least the ones that speak to me most clearly, are not about daring to go inside. They’re about daring to let others in, to accept the person feared, to say yes instead of no when asked a question, to help instead of walking past. That’s the message that has even the barest chance of connecting with people in the world today, not this endless bludgeoning of the insufficiently devout in matters of sexual behavior and political thought. Not this cycle of punishment and purging. I hear people talk about a smaller, stronger, purer church and I think how completely opposite that is to the aim of everything I’ve ever been taught by the church itself.
We’re supposed to try to be more, not to force others to be less.