My family goes to church once a year, on Christmas Eve. When I was growing up, my dad took us to church every Sunday, but he became less observant as we grew older. The final straw for him was when Cardinal George told Chicago Catholics to vote for Bush in 2004. Despite that outrage, my dad still insists on Christmas Eve mass.
Which means I get to enjoy a little righteous indignation as part of my holiday tradition, along with the eggnog and stockings. This is the Gospel reading for the Christmas vigil mass:
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son,
and he named him Jesus.
Now I ask you. Why is the story of the birth of Jesus all about Jesus's stepdad? Doesn't anyone want to know what HIS MOTHER was thinking and feeling at this moment? I grant you, the whole my-bride-is-pregnant-but-says-she's-a-virgin thing is a pretty pickle. But how about the I'm-about-to-have-my-first-baby-so-I'm-scared-shitless-plus-some-angel-says-my-baby-is-the-son-of-God-and-my-new-husband-probably-thinks-I-cheated side of the story?
Also, I really want to know. Was the birth of God the usual bloody, shitty mess? Was Mary screaming with pain from contractions all night? Did she grunt in terror as baby Jesus pushed his way out from between her legs? Did he gasp and scream as he entered the world? Did Mary put God to her breast to feed and comfort him?
You're probably thinking I'm about to be struck by lightning. But I'm completely serious about this. I'm fascinated. This is the ultimate paradox for a person of faith. Because if religion is all about antiseptic purity, white light and shiny halos, then it exists in a vacuum and has no relevance to real life. But if religion is indistinguishable from real life, with no line delineating the sacred from the profane, then it can't give us a space in which to see meaning in the chaos. Isn't that why Jesus is so appealing? Because God descended into the blood and the shit with us? Because Jesus himself, in my favorite part of the Bible, cried out on the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Because Jesus is somehow both human and God?
This is why I don't go to church anymore, although the opportunity to sit quietly within the familiar rituals and think about the big picture has at times been something I've enjoyed. When they get to the homily, when the priest is supposed to bridge the gap for us and relate the Gospel to our lives, they don't talk about stuff like this, and I get frustrated. Of course, there's also the abominable history and policies of the capital-C Catholic Church. That tends to ruin the quiet moments for me too.
At any rate. Merry Christmas, if you're so inclined.