March 29, 2017
The Prodigal Son, also known as The Parable of the Lost Son. Either way it's a very familiar story about one son wandering off becoming lost, admitting his mistakes, being forgiven - maybe even getting saved? And a second son staying home living righteously, until jealousy leads him astray - maybe even getting lost?
I guess almost everyone gets to travel both directions: saved, lost, a little saved, a lot lost; back and forth; taking turns.
Reflecting on this theme took me back to my Catholic grade school and high school years and three specific memories. The first was remembering how much I wanted to be an altar boy, except as a girl, but of course back then girls weren't allowed. Second on the list was how much I did not want to have to wear a paper towel on my head in church if I'd forgotten a hat or chapel veil. I was subjected to that humiliation a few times and always wondered who decided that goofy substitution made any sense? I don't know if God found it humorous but it wasn't funny to me. I'd like to report that I led a protest or eloquently debated the injustice of those issues, but I was a shy kid and not comfortable drawing attention. So I just felt embarrassed as the other kids made fun of me and I took away a message that I wasn't quite as good or important as some of God's other children, especially those boys.
Another specific memory was an incident while attending LaSalle, the area's first co-ed Catholic high school. I was in an advanced PE class. I'd settled for that because girls' sports teams were not yet a reality there. So one morning we entered the gym and found our PE teacher standing next to a pile of clothing. It turned out these were called school letterman jackets and they needed the boys' names sewed on. And we were the ones to do it explained our teacher. Well this time I did, after raising my hand, verbally protest that I'd signed up for PE not Home-EC for a reason. And then spent the rest of that term in the disciplinary office while my pretend-PE-class was in session.
So fast forwarding into my 20s & 30s where I'm now a single mom with two kids. And for awhile in their grade school years we attended church together. But as they got involved in more activities and I felt more pressed for time, I allowed us to quit going to mass. I justified the absences to myself from that rejected-altar-boy perspective and took on a mentality of blaming a messed up system, so why bother anyway? In fact, I decided that by even participating in such a regime I was approving of its anti-women practices, so by not going to mass, I was actually making the righteous choice.
A person can really spin stories when a conscience needs relief.
So for years I was one of those raised-Catholic-but-not-practicing individuals. Sometimes lost, mostly ok, but also living with what was a kind of blank space where my relationship with God should have been. I struggled internally with my beliefs and experiences and found an understanding that, yes, I'd felt discrimination; granted nothing severely punishing like so many others have suffered and continue to endure. But what I was harboring resentment about was never God. I had established a convenient excuse for not practicing and focusing on God's work and message.
Eventually I returned to church and although I didn't have a feeling of being immediately forgiven or saved at the first mass I'd attended in years, I also didn't feel out of place or lost. I listened and relived the rhythm of the service and encountered it as a celebration. Something or someone was different. I felt a peacefulness inside myself, a relieved conscience perhaps?