Monday, December 21, 2009

Home for the holidays

A lapsed Catholic discovers that the Church, for all its warts, is still the Church.
It’s embarrassing to admit that I will go to Mass at Christmas, because I am clearly a bad Catholic. I am short-tempered, impatient, often the opposite of serene, and the number of Vatican rules I break doesn’t bear admitting. But, hey, if I didn’t go to Mass I’d probably be far worse.

I was educated at London state schools by bright nuns and committed Catholic lay teachers who firmly implanted in me the rhythms and inspiring messages of the church’s great festivals.

The commercialism of a Godless Christmas and Easter, reduced to conspicuous consumption and shorn of their epic tales of redemption, felt empty. I could never bring myself to use the word ‘Xmas’. Christ, the nuns always reminded us, was the feast’s whole point.

For years I used to sneak into my local church to pray when no one was there. While reporting child abuse horror stories I worked with an inspiring Christian police officer and confided my religious doubts. He gave me good, simple advice: ‘Take them to God. Just pray, “Lord, help me with my unbelief.”’

I surprised myself by even going to Confession for the first time in years. The priest put things in a nutshell when he gently asked: ‘Is your main argument with God or the Vatican?’

‘Oh, the Vatican,’ I blurted out.

‘Ah well, then,’ the priest chuckled, ‘I’m sure God the Almighty has far more problems with the Vatican than you. Welcome back!’

So that was it – it seemed that I didn’t have to sign up to the whole shebang to rejoin after all.

I don't understand people who can celebrate an entirely secular Christmas. It seems to me that whether you believe in the Nativity or you don't, it's still the point of the whole thing. If you can't in good conscience join with people who believe to celebrate that particular event, then why waste your time with the trappings?

If you haven't been to church in a while, Christmas is a good time to make an appearance. I promise, nobody's going to tie you to a pew and pummel you with a crozier until you can recite the Nicene Creed convincingly. And God's always happy to see you. Who knows? You might even feel like going back again sometime.

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