I haven't been cast out, like Scott McClellan.
I strayed from the flock.
Under the loosest of definitions, I don't qualify as a "Practicing Catholic." Rather, I'm what I like to call a WEC Catholic, meaning "Wedding-Easter-Christmas." My mother prefers the term "heathen."
From 1996-2002, though, my acronym's "W" led me through the big wooden doors regularly, thanks to the wave of weddings (46) I witnessed. Toss in the Easter and Christmas from each of those years (12), and I practically batted .200. Alas, at 36 I am running out of friends to marry off, and my attendance rate is headed for Hades.
Last week, I was already thanking God that Easter had finally arrived to help pump up my average when my cousin called to say he'd be visiting for the holiday weekend. Brian lives in midtown Manhattan. Instantly, I got even more psyched about going to church. At last, I'd be able to show off how they do religion on the Left Coast; he and I would be attending the meat market that is the 5:00 pm Sunday service.
Mass in Southern California is quite different from the Masses I remember growing up outside New York City. For instance, I don't recall my Mom ever telling me about a "Singles" Mass. Now that would have gotten me out of the shower on time. I don't know who does the marketing for the Catholic Church, but he really needs to get the word out.
The first time I attended this Mass -- amazingly, a non-WEC occurrence; I lost a bet with my Dad -- I showed up five minutes late. Comparatively speaking, I was early. At least twenty people were still pulling into the parking lot as I genuflected at the end of my pew. By law Southern Californians must arrive late to Dodger games, Laker games and religious services.
Coincidentally, church is the only arena in which I have something in common with those professional athletes: we all need to have our "game faces" on and be "in the zone" in order to have any shot at succeeding. The simple reason for my lack of regular attendance is that I never pay attention. I often "Come out flat," as the pros say. If I'm supposed to be focused on the readings and the sermon, but my mind flicks from subject to subject like sunlight through the stained glass, what's the point? Predictably, I didn't bring my "A game" on my initial visit to Mass in the South Bay. My brain was consumed with deep thoughts, like: - Is there an unlimited amount of time one person can take at confession, or does the priest ask you to come back once a week till you're better, like a chiropractor?
- Can the Pope really be infallible? I mean, he got elected.
- Man, I've got to remember to have something smaller than a ten in my wallet next time.
But the biggest threat to my unsteady mind was the breathtaking amount of bare, tanned skin I saw around me. Jesus Christ. The next Vatican Council may need to add an 11th commandment: "Thou shalt not show your belly ring in church." I must admit, though, it was inspiring to see so many women wearing crosses. I couldn't help but notice this trend as their plunging necklines revealed golden crosses nestled in the heavenly valleys between...er, ahem. Suffice to say, crosses remain a popular accessory.
As a former Army officer, I was most impressed during the kneeling segments. Like members of a military drill team, dozens of women simultaneously reached back and pulled down their shirts to hide tattoos and then pulled up their low riders to cover thongs. I now understood why some parishioners refer to the 5:00 service as "Ass Mass."
Exchanging the sign of peace takes on a whole new significance at Ass Mass. Was that a wink? She gave me the "Hand on top of the Hand" shake! Did she mean, "Piece be with you?" For the first time in my life I prayed for a specific item to be mentioned in the end of service "announcements." Please say, "The Young Parishioners Club will be holding a social in the basement at the conclusion of today's Mass."
As I drove home from Easter Mass, Brian -- still high on a combination of Christ's love and perfume -- wondered aloud about the feasibility of living in Manhattan Beach but still working New York market hours.
Something must to be done to turn our focus away from scoring and back to scriptures. I have spent hours pondering this issue -- maybe the most important issue facing the Catholic Church in Southern California today -- and I've come to this definitive conclusion: I am going to need a lot more time to examine it, uh, close up. And my sources a few towns north swear that St. Monica's is even better for research.
Many Catholic churches hang signs out front reminding their lost sheep, "You can always come home." Amen.