When I was a kid, I was an altar boy at the Mt. Carmel Church in East Boston. No, I’m not coming out with any allegations. In fact, it was quite the opposite experience; they were a very caring and supportive group, especially Brother Gabriel who is a gem of a person. I was an altar boy for about eight years and served Mass almost every weekend and also during the week. Mt. Carmel was a block from my house, so my buddy Gene (also an altar boy) and I were at the church quite often.
My parents were just occasional churchgoers, but my grandparents were “all in” when it came to belief and the Catholic faith. You could say they put the meaning in “religious” in regard to attendance. They instilled the same respect and beliefs into my sister and me, and it was rare that we ever missed a Mass. In fact, we went more than we had to (and I hope that “extra credit” is making up for me now).
One weekend, for some reason that escapes me now, I wasn’t scheduled to serve Mass, and couldn’t make Mass on Sunday; Saturday evening was my only shot at attending and my grandmother reinforced not missing a service. The weekend hit, and like any other 10 year-old boy, Saturday was my playtime and I was with a bunch of kids playing baseball in the schoolyard. I saw the procession of patrons walking down the street headed for Mass and realized my time was limited. The problem was that the game was still going on and I was a filthy mess. There was no chance of getting cleaned up and making Mass on time. So I was in the outfield agonizing over what to do – that Italian Catholic guilt has a way of creeping into your head. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and told the guys I had to take off, and I ran straight for the church.
I got there in the nick of time and made my way, all sweaty and grimy, to a pew close to the altar and plopped my glove and hat down next to me. It caught the attention of two “blue hairs” in the pew in front of me, and they gave me a huff and the roll of the eyes. I also caught a comment about my appearance and how I was “brought up”. So I was sitting there, second-guessing myself, thinking that not washing up was probably a sign of disrespect and that my mother and grandmother wouldn’t be so pleased because it was a reflection on them. All of these types of thoughts were flying through my head when, about half way through the Mass, I happened to look up at the Stations of the Cross.
In Mt. Carmel, there were paintings that went around the perimeter of the church that depicted certain moments of Jesus’ plight when he carried the cross outside the gates of Jerusalem to be crucified. These are known as the Stations of Cross, and they are represented in various ways in Catholic churches.
When I looked up, I noticed that Jesus was stripped of his robe and was basically in underwear. Now, I know that we are talking about different times and something far more significant than a kid playing baseball, but just then a notion popped in my head, “Do you think Jesus cares what you are wearing?” I’m chuckling now, and I smiled back then, because I doubt he would care; all that mattered was that I was there with good intentions. It also made me think a little deeper; maybe Jesus wouldn’t be too appreciative of the cranky old ladies in the pew in front of me.
I write about this not to get all religious on you or to douse you with my beliefs. I just think that this story captures much more than religion and going to church. This nails it for me on a societal perception of things in general. Many people are quick to judge on appearance, rumor, and speculation without investing one iota of time or interest to see if there is anything deeper going on, or if they are missing something. Those old ladies just liked pointing their fingers so they could feel better about themselves and distract their thoughts from their own shortcomings.
Finger pointing is a common defense mechanism for certain people who need to hide. Many politicians, as well as other leaders and religious figures, make a living on this tactic. Look at the nightly news, and you see nothing but other people’s misfortune. That’s only because bad news sells. People like knowing that others are worse off than they are. Don’t fall into the trap and succumb to becoming judge and jury by making snap decisions about others and incidents. Lead the way, and make an effort to dig a bit deeper and get close to the truth. I know it’s very difficult in this day and age of instant communication and misinformation, but only you can control how you view things.
I will say one thing, that little 10 year-old boy was pure of heart, and he should have been embraced, not scorned, for his efforts to attend Mass. It’s what’s inside a person that counts, and unless you invest yourself, you will never know that part of the story. Oh, and by the way – don’t be a “Blue Hair”; some day you will be the one being judged.