I was recently inspired by Wide Lawns to write about the Lenten season. If you haven’t read her post from today you should, it is a beautiful reflection on peace, love, and faith. Unlike Wide Lawns, I was raised in a super Catholic family and for the first time in years, I am unable to attend Ash Wednesday Mass. I’m totally bummed about this because I love the forty days that lead up to Easter.
Easter is my favorite holiday. I’m such a freak that way. Everyone else I know loves Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, and the Forth of July, but not me. I love Easter. It could be because my mother repeatedly told me that my name (yes my real one) is related to Easter. My mother has always told me that my name and its meaning have always brought her such joy (partly because my mother is a very sweet woman, but also because my mom is super religious). My first word, my mother swears, was Jesus–not like Do-not-take- the-Lord’s-name- in-vain” Jesus, but like the-bearded-guy-who- saved- humanity Jesus. It’s like I’m destined to love Easter.
Growing up my parents did a great job of teaching us about Lent, and not making it seem overly challenging to practice sacrifice. We already always eat fish on Fridays, even though the only time of year the Vatican asks that practicing Catholics do sacrifice meat on Friday is during Lent, we always go to mass, and my parents enrolled us in religious education. Being a Catholic has never been a challenge for me. I think I’m lucky that way. I completely understand why many Catholics have walked away from the Church. Sometimes, politically, I struggle with Catholicism, but I still practice.
I, like most college students, went through a phase when I questioned my faith and beliefs. I seriously considered leaving the Church, but simply couldn’t do it. I researched many religions because I considered conversion. The idea to completely abandon God and religion was not an option. God and the Church have always kept me grounded; I knew, even as I considered leaving the Catholic faith, that I would need something.
At the time of the religious crisis, I was a junior in college and had a lot of Jewish friends. I always say that if I hadn’t been born in a Catholic home, I would have been born into a Jewish home. I love the Jewish faith. It is so rich with history, culture, beautiful stories, and a true understanding of what it means to be human. In many ways, Judaism and its culture is similar to Catholicism. There is the guilt (which unlike Wide Lawns, I am continually plagued by it) and the food. The food part might have something to do with the Italian in me. Anyway, I digress. My fascination and appreciation for the Jewish faith encouraged the questioning of my Catholic upbringing.
My mother and I are very close. When I told her about my religious crisis and my doubts, never once was I told that I was wrong, or would be condemned a sinner and all that other dramatic crap. She was very supportive. Her support enabled me to feel very comfortable in my exploration.
The peak of my crisis occurred during Lent. It was the middle of the Spring semester. I struggled with stress (still do) and needed something to turn to. My college experience, while phenomenal, was not the completely happy-go-party experience of some of my peers and roommates. I struggled academically–I almost failed out of college. My family was going through some major drama (the subject of my memoir–when I of course get up the emotional strength to sit down and write it) and I didn’t know what do with myself. Being the good little Catholic girl that I am, even in my religious crisis, decided to practice Lent. I gave up cursing (which I swear I do every year with the hope that Easter will arrive and the foul language will have escaped me) and set up a curse jar.
The curse jar was an old Smucker’s Strawberry jam jar. I peeled off the label, and taped a new one that read: Curse Jar 25 cents a Curse. I eventually had to up the price because the quarter was not enough of a deterrence. I upped it to a dollar, which, let me tell you, was painful. So, Lent began and during those forty days, I practiced my Catholic faith harder than ever. It was like working out the way you do in January because this is the year you’re finally going to drop those fifteen pounds. You know?
I went to mass every Sunday and as Easter approached, I became more and more sure that being Catholic was for me. I should probably mention that during this semester I was enrolled in a Christianity course. It was essentially a history/religion course where we had to read the New Testament. There was no religious agenda. It was a very sterile look at the New Testament. We studied it like a historical document/ biography on how Christianity came to be. At the beginning of the semester, some of the readings had put doubt in me that Christianity made no sense. How could Jesus be so important? Maybe Judaism was right, maybe Jesus was a prophet but not the Savior. Having attended religious education and Mass, the New and Old Testament were not something new to me, but for whatever reason, reading them in this class made me question it.
The entire time I doubted my faith and questioned it, my mother always reminded me that there was nothing wrong in questioning your ideals, and digging deep and doing research to decide what the Truth was. It made me think about what Benjamin Franklin said, “It is the first responsiblity of every citizen to question authority,” and what bigger authority is there than God?
I took the time to question and reflect, just like you’re supposed to during Lent. By the time Easter rolled around, I felt better, more confident and strong. And. Catholic.
This year I look forward to Lent. Easter is going to be very special this year. For the first time in a very long time (maybe since I was about eight) I will be with my family that lives very far away. All the aunts and uncles and cousins will be together. After forty days of sacrifice (most of us give up something like sweets, or ice cream) we will get together for a delicious feast. There will be biscotti, cakes, ricotta pie (to DIE for) and chocolates. Not to mention FH will finally get to meet the whole gang. Of course, it would be difficult to not be excited for all the good food and people. I’m looking forward to Lent because my Spirit is definitely damaged (I’m sure you’ve all noticed the less that happy posts recently). I’m in desperate need of reflection and nourishment. Just like I was junior year of college, I’m once again in crisis (Spiritual and Existential–that’s practically the same thing) mode.
I’m very confident that once again, the Lenten season will save me, and help me feel whole again. That’s what faith is supposed to do. Right?