The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

SOME RELIGIOUS ASSEMBLY REQUIRED: I don’t know if we’re any more religious here in this neck of the woods than in any other place you’d care to mention. I suppose no one can ever really say for certain if people who attend religious services do so because they actually understand and believe in the tenets of their faith or if they go simply because going somewhere to pray once a week is just one of those things that people expect other people to do. God knows the answer, of course, but He’s not letting anyone else in on the secret. But if the number of buildings used for religious services is any sort of indicator then I’d say all in all we seem a fairly religious lot.

The majority of people here in our happy little burg are Christians of one sort or another. There are two Roman Catholic churches here, as well as a cloistered convent where the nuns spend their days praying for the world’s salvation, a tall order to be sure, especially for a group of nice women who are getting on in years, and a Franciscan seminary where young men steeped in sin and secularism enter one year and come out as fully fledged Capuchin friars a few years later. The Capuchins are best known for lending their name to a type of coffee; yes, cappuccino is named after this branch of the Franciscan movement, the swirl in the froth at the top of the cup resembling the Capuchins’ pointed hoods, although I don’t know if they get any royalties from the coffee companies for the use of their name. It doesn’t seem likely, though; that’s a shrewd commercial move, you see, and not at all the sort of thing one would expect from a bunch of guys who’ve decided for the sake of their souls to take a vow of poverty. It’s one thing to be poor; lots of people are poor and they don’t much like it and they’re trying to work their way out of poverty. It’s another thing entirely to decide that you want to be poor and take a solemn oath to stay that way. Maybe I'm not taking the broader view of this, but it seems to me that this is probably not the sort of person you want to go to for smart investment advice.

The full panoply of mainline Protestantism is represented here as well, from Dutch Reformed to Southern Baptist, and for those who find mainline Protestantism, well, mainline, and therefore something of a bore, there are any number of storefront Pentecostal churches, some with services in English and Spanish, where the Holy Spirit can move you in the language of your choice. Over near the old high school we have an even older synagogue, and in the heart of the business district, wedged a bit uncomfortably between a liquor store and an Italian butcher shop with salamis and sausages hanging in the front window, there is a mosque, from which the muezzin, or a recorded version of a muezzin, invokes the Shahadah and calls the Muslim faithful to prayer five times a day over a loudspeaker set to whatever the volume setting just above a passenger train hitting a truck full of dynamite at sixty miles an hour is.

But all in all, we tend to get along with each other pretty well. I think nearly everyone here recognizes that there must be a time set aside from the hyperactive hustle and bustle of modern American culture, from the eternal commercial gotta—make—a—buck—get—it—done—today—rat race freneticism that permeates all of our lives, and spend some time quietly contemplating the Lord from whom all good things come and to thank Him for His blessings upon us. Having that time alone with the Lord, away from the constant pressure to buy and sell, is important not only for our spiritual health, I think, but it’s important from a psychological standpoint as well; it gives us all a chance to decompress a little. So it was something of a shock to open my church’s weekly bulletin during Mass and see them asking me to remember the church in my will. Leaving something in your will for the church is a time-honored tradition amongst Catholics, of course, especially if you are a fairly rich Catholic who’s realized somewhat late in life that the means by which you’ve become fairly rich do not bear a great deal of examination by authorities either temporal or divine, but actually seeing my church trying to drum up business in the weekly bulletin while the priest is giving a homily on the meaning of charity in the modern world was a bit much, I thought.

I suppose what really nonplusses me is the idea of the church having an interest in my demise beyond that of whether or not my soul passes muster and enters Heaven. I’m sure my church wants me to get to Heaven and dwell forever with the angels and saints in the beatific Presence of the Lord forever, all of which is very nice, you know, but I can’t help getting the feeling that the question of where I’m going is not nearly as important as when I’m going, and the sooner the better, preferably. It gives another dimension to the parish priest asking me how am I feeling these days.

I don’t think I’d mind giving the church something in my will, if I had a will or a way to give them something, but then again, one of my more unattractive personality traits is a strong streak of paranoia. If I did will the church something then I’d never be able to go to a Catholic hospital again; I’d look at every doctor in the place as if they were trying to turn me into a down payment on a new roof for St. Aloysius Gonzaga Elementary School (St. Aloysius Gonzaga, for those of you who are interested, is the patron saint of youth and altar boys; St. Jerome is the patron saint of librarians and translators; St. Barbara, for reasons I’m not sure I fathom, is the patron of artillerymen. She must do something else as well; all Catholic saints multitask—having all that work to do keeps them off the streets and out of trouble).

Maybe I’m making too much of this; I’ve been known to do that; but there’s just something about the way the nuns look at me these days that makes me suspicious, like I was the doofus nephew with the winning lottery ticket and they were thinking about how much good they could do with the jackpot if only I were out of the way. You know, I think I will stay away from Catholic hospitals, now that I’ve given it some thought. A new roof for an elementary school costs a fair-sized chunk of change these days and my liver is bothering me.



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