The season of Lent is upon us and while many are feeling conflicted about what it is they are about to attempt to fast from, for me I’m dealing with a bevy of other emotions that are rooted in my disdain for the Catholic religion…
When I was 6 years old my parents divorced. While my father got primary custody my brother Ty and I saw our mother pretty much whenever we wanted which was nearly every weekend, random days during the summer and many holidays. My parents were pretty flexible with that. A few years later my father remarried and Ty and I had to switch school districts. Since my stepmother had my stepsister enrolled in a Catholic school they believed it would be best for Ty and I to switch to the Catholic school instead of the local public school. The Catholic school was extremely competitive-as a result there was a waiting list to get in. After meeting with school administration my parents managed to strike a deal-if Ty and I would be converted to the Catholic religion, we could skip the 1-2 year waiting list. My parents would get their kids a great education and the Catholic school could count on two new Black students to increase their diversity numbers.
My first year there as a 5th grader was challenging. In addition to being the only Black student in my entire grade (the second Black student in the entire middle school), I was also bombarded with Catholic policies, rituals, sacraments and classes. While I had to attend regular religion classes during the school day, I also had to attend a course outside of regular school hours in order to “catch up” with my classmates. I was in 5th grade and had missed the Baptism, Eucharist (Communion) and Reconciliation (Confession) sacraments that were administered in infancy and second grade.
I felt completely alienated. Aside from culturally being different (having to explain why I used actual oil on my skin and washed my hair bi-weekly), I found it difficult to relate to their religion. I had to attend mass two days a week. It was humiliating to remain seated and not be allowed to receive Communion because I had yet to finish my religion classes that included those Rite of Passage. My experience in other denominations was that everyone got to receive God’s body and blood…by denying me that privilege, it made me feel as though I was unworthy. In addition, their masses had none of the “call and response,” animated preaching, or actual Bible-reading that I had grown accustomed to from my days spent going to the Pentecostal church with my mother or Solid Rock Church with Aunt Lynne (Shelby’s mom who I’ve always been close too).
To this day, many concepts in the religion still confuse me. I’m not quite clear on what the heck that missalette was…it certainly wasn’t the Bible. And why did I have to spend all that time praying to Mother Mary? And some sins are worse than others? Finally, why did I have to confess all of my sins to Father Mahoney, another sinning human…who did Father Mahoney confess too…cuz he’s not perfect, right?
Ultimately I became incredibly depressed. Incredibly. By the end of my 6th grade school year the school psychiatrist wound up having to come speak to me…and from then I became known as “that” girl…that had “issues” since I had to speak with the doctor. It was a very dark time in my life and by the end of the school year my parents made an executive decision to pull me out (along with my siblings) and transfer us to local public schools. After leaving, I thrived.
All of that to say, since then whenever I reflect on the Catholic church I’m haunted by those memories. I remember how stringent the insitution is regarding their rules, sacraments and traditions and I haven’t held them in high esteem since. Lent became thrown into that and it was something that I didn’t have a lot of respect for. Until last year.
Last year Shelby and I were talking and she let me know what she was giving up for Lent. I gave her an extreme side-eye. She’s not Catholic (and to my knowledge never has been). While Shelby grew up in the Catholic school system and had her own obstacles she had to deal with within it, she attended her family’s church on weekends.
“Cous. Why are you participating in Lent when you’re not Catholic?” I remember asking her.
“But why not?” She fired back.
I was confused at this point. “Huh?” Why participate in another religion’s rituals and traditions if you’re not a member of that religion?
“I mean, sure I’m not Catholic but the purpose of Lent is to reflect on God and to draw nearer to him. Regardless of who started doing it, a fast is a fast. I need my blessings!”
Gosh, I love her! Does that NOT make sense?
Immediately I felt a bit foolish for being so close-minded, especially in matters of spirituality. While I chose not to observe Lent last year (mainly because it was already halfway over) now that it’s upon us again, I am looking forward to doing my part to form a better relationship with God and also to contribute to the world’s effort of everyone drawing nearer to Him in these troubling times. Regardless of your own personal experiences with the rules of religion or the denominations that exist, there’s no denying that ignoring the desires of the flesh in exchange for feeding the needs of the spirit is for the better good.
Less of me, more of you.
Sidenote: I will be abstaining from social networking for the next 40 days. Yikes! 🙂