Tag Archives: offending

Bless Me, Father, for I Have Sinned

25 Jun

Bless Me, Father, for I Have Sinned

 I recently attended the wedding of a dear former student.  It was my first all-out, full-blown Catholic service, and I found the liturgy and congregational participation interesting.  When the priest offered communion for all Catholics in good standing, I knew he wasn’t talking about me, though I consider myself a Christian, albeit Protestant, in good standing.  Still, I reasoned there is only one Church and we are all covered equally by the same Blood of Christ, so I followed my pew mates to the front and partook of the bread and the wine.  It wasn’t the first time I had done it, so I actually knew what to do, though my usual custom for communing in my Protestant faith is somewhat different.  No one refused me or shamed me or even noticed; in fact, I would have stood  out more sharply had I not participated.  I might have gotten away with my transgression had I not joked about it later.

That evening at the reception, the priest was making his rounds and came to greet the members at my table. My friends had seated me with family, as I knew no one else at the celebration, and the bride’s uncle and aunt and their family chatted and joked pleasantly with the Father, familiar in their shared experience,  though they had only met the night before at the rehearsal.  When the priest politely included me in the conversation, I felt comfortable enough to “confess” my earlier communion decision, assuming everyone would laugh and assure me it was no big deal.  Wrong.  The startled look on the faces should have prepared me for the stern reprimand the Father felt necessary to deliver:  “This is not allowed.”  He must have noticed my stunned expression because he went on to soften his reproach with, “But as this was a special occasion, it may be overlooked this time.  You are forgiven.”  I guess he knew a command of “Hail Mary’s” and saying the rosary would have little effect on me, so he didn’t bother castigating me further, but my own Protestant guilt immediately began to chastise me for my casual, if not flippant, behavior.  Who knew they took these things so seriously?

The next morning at breakfast, seated with the same lovely people, I thought to joke about my Protestant clumsiness, assuming the family would join me in chuckling over my faux pas, only to have my story interrupted by the uncle’s reminder:  “You have confessed it,” he intoned somberly, “and the Father has forgiven you.”  Silenced, I know he meant to reassure me, but his serious expression did more to imprint on my already sensitive conscience the solemnity of the occasion—and this lesson:  just because their methods weren’t mine didn’t mean I could treat them facetiously.

It’s a lesson I should have remembered from a similar occasion with my dear Muslim friend, another former student.  (I seem to learn as much from my students as they do from me—and that’s ok.)  Teasing her for her modesty and reluctance to try something daring—talking to a handsome stranger, wearing a swimsuit, eating ice cream for breakfast— I often joked if such behavior was actually forbidden in the Q’uran:  “Where does it say you can’t have ice cream for breakfast (or–fill in the blank)?” I’d mock, good-naturedly, only to have her admonish me fervently, “Becky, you must never joke about the Holy Book!” as though a fatwa might be placed on our heads just for laughing.  It wasn’t respectful she implied, though she never countered with her own taunting about my beliefs or practices.  Chagrined, I felt put in my place by someone younger and even less educated than I, as well I should have been.  I should know better.  I do.

For it is about respect.  And respect comes from not assuming an arrogance that my beliefs and practices are superior if they are different from someone else’s.  I realized I did tend to maintain an attitude of superiority:  I was an American, I was a Christian, I had a Ph.D., I, I, I, blah, blah, blah.  I’d be the first to agree we are all created equal, but I might not be above adding, in self-reference, “some are just more equal than others.”  For some, this might translate as a definition of  “white privilege”; for me, it was the result of growing up in a rather homogeneous environment where my approach to all things was the norm and rarely, if ever, questioned and usually respected, if not honored.  Abstractly aware of but concretely cocooned against dissimilarity, it was never climbing into someone else’s skin and walking around to see how they viewed the world or why they reacted to my world as they did.  Such realization is humbling.  Having read and taught Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird as much as I have, one would think I would have applied the message more particularly, not just repeated it.  I do.

Today it has become the norm to ridicule those of us who made up the majority just a generation ago:  WASPs, perhaps, for want of a more descriptive term.  Those at whom we looked askance are now turning the stare back at us, and it’s uncomfortable.  However, it is no more acceptable for them to return the glare as it was for us to put it out there in the first place.  We should all realize, accept, and respect—if we cannot embrace—that it’s not all about us, any of us.  It’s about all of us.  At the same time.  It may be an adjustment, but we can do it.

R-e-s-p-e-c-t.  Humility.  We could all use a diet of that right now.  We might find we feel better, behave better, even live longer, as a result if we do.

And that’s my last confession.

–Rebecca Luttrell Briley, Ph.D.

June 25, 2015

Midway, Kentucky