I was recently dining with a group of colleagues I hadn't seen in a while at a meal break inside of a training seminar. After catching up on the frivolity -- how many kids you have now, how long have you been with the company -- one African American gal turned to me and asked out of the blue, "So, Mike, what are you giving up for Lent this year?"
"Uh, Catholicism?" came the reply before a wave of polite laughter (note -- I am the boss of these people, so everything I say is met with polite laughter).
"They still do that?" asked another colleague.
"Mike asked me that during a meeting years ago and then he shared what the Lenten sacrifice had meant to him. It just left me so inspired I took up the tradition each year ever since."
She returned her eyes to me.
"So, what are you giving up for Lent?"
"Well, based on the stumped look on his face, I'd say he's given up lecturing people on old Catholic customs," snickered someone.
More polite laughter, this time at my expense.
I didn't even recognize the Mike she was referencing. With my last girl done with her Confirmation last year, the regular connection to my faith's doctrine and culture have taken a nosedive from the nosedive it had been already taken over the years.
Yes, I still go to church regularly enough, but the prayers are absent-mindedly mumbled and the daydreaming goes into high gear during the rote homily. Nowadays, I only get passionately close to my faith when I hit air turbulence, a police officer flashes lights in my rear view, or a if a letter from the IRS appears in the mailbox.
In my last quiet moment in the HOG (House of God), I buttoned up my mental hair shirt and begun flogging myself for everything I was doing wrong.
Y'know, you SHOULD be here more often.
Y'know, you SHOULD have dragged the girls out of bed to be here with you.
Y'know, you SHOULD set a better example for your godchildren.
Y'know, you SHOULD get into that confessional...
I SHOULD just stop the “shoulds” in my head and thank the Lord for his many blessings. But that’s old time, weapons-grade Catholic school guilt for you.
Though there were countless paintings depicting a wooly seventies-era Jesus smiling or playing with children, the nuns at St. Ann’s in Jersey City painted Jesus as an accountant, carefully tracking our sins in one column and our good deeds in another.
When our meal was over, my colleague threw her arms around me and said, “Mike, we haven’t seen each other in ages and I think it’s just great that we can pick up right where we left off. That’s friendship.”
Then it hit me -- that’s the kind of relationship I’d like to have with Jesus! Is he going to treat me like the nagging wife with a rolling pin at the church door when I have trouble making my way into His house, or is He going to pat the empty barstool next to him with one hand while motioning to auld St. Peter on his perch behind the bar for an extra pint of Guinness with the other? For that little fantasy to come true, I’d have to give up something big for Lent -- Irish Catholic school guilt.
Mike Farragher’s new collection of essays, This is Your Brain on Shamrocks 2: 50 Shades o’Green, can be found on www.thisisyourbrainonshamrocks.com