As with any good religiously-themed diary let me begin with a confession. My wife and I have not been regular church goers for a couple of years now. Once both our sons had made their way through CCD and Confirmation into the Catholic Church it somehow became a less urgent matter to drag ourselves out of bed on a Sunday morning, or pull ourselves away from Saturday afternoon activities to make the 20-25 minute trek to Saturday afternoon mass. The fact that the priest and one particular Deacon loved to deliver Fox News talking points from the pulpit about the so-called 'war on Christianity', 'war on Christmas', and 'war against marriage' also contributed to our lapse in attendance.
By way of "full disclosure" I will reveal that I am not a Catholic. I was raised and confirmed as a Methodist. My wife is a Catholic, born and raised. What in the old days might have been termed a mixed marriage. (Though in Connecticut it is the fact that she is a Red Sox fan and I am a Yankees fan that makes ours a mixed marriage.)
We were married in the Catholic Church, our sons were raised and confirmed in the Catholic Church as well.
For the various reason cited in the Intro we had not been regular church goers lately, lapsing into that derided pattern of Christmas/Easter mass attendance. Yet last Sunday night, our anniversary, my wife and I found ourselves sitting in a Catholic Church in a nearby town.
Besides our two sons who are now both off at college, my wife and I have been blessed with the company of what has to be the sweetest dog ever known, a runt of a yellow Labrador Retriever named Sondra. We have had her from the time she was a puppy. She is funny and playful, a big wuss, and despite a desire to eat 24/7 would also rather give and receive love and be your friend then get food. But she has also reached over 11 years of age. In the last couple of weeks her eating habits, sleeping habits and behavior began to change. Some days she was just terribly lethargic, showing no interest in food whatsoever, even in her favorite treats like pizza crusts and doggie ice cream. We knew something was up.
Long story short, she was bleeding internally. Most likely cause we were told by the vet is a splenic tumor. If that was the case the spleen can be removed and the dog continues to live, at least for a somewhat longer time. But if the source was somewhere else then the options were not as good. The day before her surgery there were tears, prayers and the usual bargains made.
The surgery was performed and it did turn out to be the spleen. Tests have shown the tumors were malignant so overall prognosis is not entirely great, but there are options. For now anyway she is home with us, healing, and acting more like her usual self.
So after hearing the news that it was the spleen and she had made it through the surgery I turned to my wife and said, "of course this means we have to go to church this Sunday. I promised I would if she made it through this."
That Sunday happened to be our anniversary and I had made reservations for us to go out to brunch. It turned out that the only service we were able to make was a Sunday evening mass at a church in the town next to ours.
It was like riding a bicycle, the liturgy coming back to me easily as if we had been regularly attending mass these past years.
So there we sat as the priest began his homily based on the gospel of 'render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar'. Oh good I thought, a sermon on how it is not immoral to pay taxes. Perhaps more than that a statement of how it is moral to pay your fair share to the government. Obviously I had been away for too long if that was my optimistic expectation.
The priest was careful not to mention names and to state that they could not and would not ever tell anyone specifically how to vote. But as my Catholic wife stated, "why didn't he make it simple and just tell everyone to vote for McCain/Palin?"
The priest talked about the culture of death, the violence against the innocent life of the unborn. Now he did also talk about other components of the "culture of life", like being for peace not war, being against capital punishment, working for justice and to end poverty. But as he explained it - all those issues get trumped by the abortion issue. Yes, a politician can be on the "right" side on all those other issues, but if that candidate is on the "wrong" side of the abortion issue it doesn't matter. Now he didn't say so , but I suppose the converse of that is you can be for war, for capital punishment, work against helping the poor and powerless in our society, but as long as you are "anti-abortion" then you are okay with God and the Church. Or at least their preferred candidate for public office. They consider the violence against the innocent unborn to be that heinous compared to the other issues.
There were of course the expected pronouncements against the recent Connecticut Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage as well. But the real slap in the face was toward the beginning of the homily when the priest all but said that those Catholics who would vote for "pro-abortion" candidates are as guilty as if they performed the abortion themselves.
My wife and I were extremely upset by all this. If it wasn't for Sondra we probably would have walked out. As it was, instead of our usual contribution my wife made a point of taking out a single dollar bill, folding it a number of times and dropping it in the collection plate when it was brought around. And we left right after she had received Holy Communion. Being from the Catholic tradition (including parochial schools) she was more upset by this than I was. As she put it, it's the arrogance and hate toward others in the name of religion that she can't stand.
We are hoping to find a church to attend regularly, and our dog needs all our prayers to defeat her cancer and live whatever remaining days she has as comfortably and energetically as possible. But we know one church we will not be returning to.
UPDATE: Thanks for all the good wishes, prayers, thoughtful comments and suggestions.