I’m putting my Catholic Guilt to good use this year.

I grew up Catholic.  I’m currently non-practicing, and not necessarily just because I don’t feel like it, or getting up early on a Sunday is not for me.  On the contrary, I used to love going to the early early Mass each week.  It was quiet, it was solemn, it was austere.  When I did go to church, I preferred quiet contemplation.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I finally reached my breaking point with the Church, and nothing to date has changed my mind.  I cannot reconcile the Church’s view on gay marriage and reproductive rights, and if my Church leaders do not want me to call myself Catholic because of this, I’m not going to force myself on them.  However, there is a certain mysticism underlying in Catholicism that I just find lacking in other Christian denominations that I am more aligned with politically.  I’ve thought about attending the Unitarian services in Albany, but as I said before, I enjoy quiet contemplation.  I went to Mass for me, not to feel as if I was a member of a community.  Going elsewhere just does not fit for my spirituality.

I worried about how my mother would take it when I told her I was not going to get married in a Catholic Church.  She has similar political beliefs, though still feels strongly about identifying as Catholic.  When I was baptised in 1982, in Brooklyn, one was not allowed to schedule a baptism other than in your Parish, and Parish was decided by geography.  The Church my mother grew up in, where she went to high school, was not an option, but instead it was St. Vincent’s.  Considering what St. Vincent stands for, what came out of this priest’s mouth was unconscionable.

He said to my mother, a single parent, all of 24 years old and just a little over a year out of college, still struggling to find a job, “I hope that you have asked God forgiveness for your mistakes.”  He said this while looking down at me.

My mother flew into a rage.  “I know I’m not perfect,” she said. “But don’t you DARE call my daughter a mistake.  My daughter is NOT a mistake.  And another thing – it’s priests like you who drive women like me to have abortions.”

He shut up and continued the baptism.  My mother never stepped foot in that particular Church again. 

Despite her own checkered feelings about the Church, I still worried about telling her that I wouldn’t get married in the Church.  Considering the rocky relationship my mother and I had in the early months of my engagement to C, I wondered if this was just another battle we were going to have.

“No,” she replied. “I get it.  I completely understand.”

I was somewhat floored.  There was a point in time where I wanted a full mass, and she had said she would be disappointed if I didn’t get married in the Church.  However, my mother knows me, and she knows I don’t make decisions like these lightly.  She knew that if I was making this decision, it was not because of convenience or aesthetics, but because I had thought it through on a deeper level.

Catholicism is very cultural for many of us who grew up with the religion.  There are certain rituals that I still find comfort in, and one of them is the practice of giving something up for Lent.  I find it to be more effective than a New Year’s resolution.  I choose something to better myself, and it is time-limited.  I have a goal in mind, and I know it’s not for “forever.”

This year, despite the fact I haven’t gone to Mass since the 2008 election season, I am giving up shopping for Lent, and will be doing the 30 for 30 challenge.  (A shoutout to Alex in the Soleil for introducing me to the challenge and inspiring me!)  Obviously Lent is more than 30 days, so I am going to participate Monday-Friday from Monday, March 14th (the Monday after Ash Wednesday) thru Friday, April 22nd.  I have planned to skip Thursday, March 17th, as that is a day to wear kelly green.  🙂  However, to ensure I have 30 days, I will do a make-up on Saturday, March 19 (we have plans to attend The Lion King at Proctors, so it is a good day).  I’m in the process of selecting the pieces I will rotate, and I’ve also been purging my closet for clothes that don’t fit or that I don’t care for anymore.  Also, in preparation, I just ordered a bunch of clothes from New York and Company – I know, I know, but they were having a good sale with free shipping, and I had a coupon and a gift certificate, so I actually only spent $0.21.  (Yes, you read that correctly.  Not bad, eh?)  Like Alex, I’ll be posting my progress on here.

The challenge only forbids you from shopping for clothes and accessories, however I am taking it a step further and doing no unnecessary purchases.  I’ll buy things that I need if I run out of them, and I will buy things for other people if an event calls for it, but no frivoulous purchases.  I know this is going to be harder than it initially appears, however I think it will be a good thing.  If anything else, it will teach me to be a more mindful consumer, something that I’ve been working on but really struggling with.

And, this is the purpose of Lent, right?  To use the time to cut something unnecessary out of your life to make you reflect on what is important, and to hopefully make you a better person afterward.  Going back to basics.  I remember, as a girl in Catholic elementary school, we were “required” to give something up for Lent, and finding it to be an annoying chore.  The nuns alluded that it was something to suffer over, as Christ did.  I don’t think Christ wants us to suffer just for the sake of suffering, but I DO think he wants us to take time to reflect on our actions and how they impact us and those around us.  I wish it had been explained to me better as a child.

Lent, like everything else with the Catholic Church, seems to mean something different for me.