You can’t spell conscience without science

Today is Good Friday, the most solemn day on the liturgical calendar. And despite my twenty-six years as a Catholic–sixteen of which were spent being educated in the traditions of the Sisters of Charity, Sisters of Mercy, and the LaSallian brothers–the day might have passed without me noticing had it not been for my mom sing-songing, “Remember, fasting and abstinence tomorrow!” as I cut into a raspberry danish last night. Okay, I probably would have realized at some point–perhaps while biting into my favorite chicken-laden Panera salad–that I was violating a dietary rule on not just any Lenten Friday, but the Lenten Friday, and that, though seemingly arbitrary and never explicitly dictated by Jesus himself (Right? It’s all just conjecture that he probably wouldn’t be into eating animal flesh on Fridays during Lent?*), said rule is still critical to follow if for no other reason than that it would all but destroy Grandma if she even suspected I was doing otherwise.

I don’t mean to be flippant or offensive, even though that paragraph is probably both of those things. The truth is that even though I am a bit of a lapsed Catholic–a term I hesitate to use because I don’t believe they actually exist, which I’ll explain–I really love Catholicism. It has a certain charm that often goes unseen and overlooked because of all the other unfortunate stuff that’s become associated with the Catholic Church (e.g., sex scandals, pope scandals, gay scandals, gay pope scandals, etc.). My childhood is filled with distinctly Catholic memories that I’m crazy (or cruel) enough to hope my own kids will have one day: Sister Joseph smacking her desk to scare my kindergarten class into silence; sweating bullets in a plaid wool uniform jumper as I waited in line to confess my sins to Father Bob; unwrapping the board game “My First Catechism” on Christmas Day 1994; crying when I found out that babies grew “inside stomachs”; crying when I found out how babies were made in the first place; crying when I saw a man’s naked butt for the first time while watching Grease (an act of rebellion in itself); and on Good Friday, attending the Stations of the Cross followed by an afternoon of Jesus of Nazareth–the Easter equivalent of A Christmas Story in that you can kind of jump in at any point and understand what’s going on.

Although I’m sure someone else could give you a catalog (CATHalog) of memories of a Catholic upbringing that was oppressive, tyrannical, and puritanical, mine mostly fill me with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Being raised how I was made me disciplined, orderly, structured, obedient, cautious, submissive to authority, and befittingly prude, all qualities that can get one pretty far in life when you think about it. There’s also something to be said for the Catholic emphasis on ceremony; they could make the fourth-grade’s spring concert–during which students would squeak out “This Little Light of Mine” on recorders or something equally horrifying and rough on the ears–feel like the most important day of your life. And to be honest, I don’t not like that feeling of gravity, of weightiness, that all the tiny minutiae of life really, really matter. The first time I went to a non-Catholic wedding, I was puzzled when the ceremony began (and ended) with the exchange of vows. So…they aren’t making us sit through 45 minutes of prayers and psalms to build up excitement for the good part? (This is also called “working the room.”) I mean, isn’t the whole point of a wedding to make people feel like it’s not only the most momentous day of the bride and groom’s life, but also that of every person there? I decided then and there that my wedding–even if I marry an atheist–will be absolutely painstaking in its pomp and circumstance. The after-party will feel all the more glorious.

Which brings me to my point: I’m not so sure that Catholics are capable of wholly (holy–word play!) “lapsing.” It’s not something you can shrug off or hang up, at least not in my experience. Sure, I’ve fallen off the wagon in many (most) ways, which I’ll refrain from detailing since I don’t want to implicate myself, but my “Catholicness” isn’t something I’ll ever really eschew entirely. That’s because being Catholic–and this likely goes for other religions as well–is wider and deeper than keeping holy the Sabbath and going veg on Fridays for a few weeks a year and memorizing the Mass like a script, even though these are admirable things that a (small, quite small) part of me wishes I coud still do. “Catholic” is more abstract than that, and it’s part of who I am–the discipline, the routine, the oppressive sense of obligation and duty, the guilt–and there’s something strangely comforting in knowing that these feelings will last a lifetime.

This weekend, probably tomorrow, I’ll be sitting through a 150-minute-long Easter service with my family and boyfriend, who will be baffled throughout. For most of these 150 minutes, I will be counting down to the Mass’ denouement so that I can go home and continue re-watching Game of Thrones in preparation for the show’s resurrection on Sunday night. But–maybe for a minute or five, and quite possibly more, I’ll feel peaceful, calm, and very much at home.





*There’s probably a quote somewhere in the Bible that explains this rule, of which I will continue to be willfully ignorant.

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