I've started going to church again. Yes, I can hear all my non-believer friends (who are legion) groan, roll their eyes and shake their heads. Okay, I can't hear them roll their eyes or shake their heads, but you get the idea. I remember once when my friend Bob was talking about a poll that revealed most Americans believe in God. He was offering the poll's results as proof of how alienated he and his friends are from the mainstream. "I don't know anyone who believes in God" he concluded. I sheepishly (though not in the "Lord is my Shepard" sense) raised my hand. I explained that my belief varies from day to day. Monday; peaceful existentialist. Tuesday: hopeful mystic. Solomon Grundy has nothing on me.
My return to church is not due to a spiritual reawakening but rather to a matter of honor. I am my nephew Eric's godfather, which, in the Catholic Church, isn't just an honorary title but a commitment. I agreed (without knowing it at the time) that I would bring up Eric in the Catholic faith should anything happen to his mother or father. Since Eric's mother and father are both alive, this is a fairly easy obligation. The only time it is a problem is when Eric is of age to receive any of the sacraments. Then his Godfather is expected to be a Catholic In Good Standing, complete with a letter from a priest testifying to the fact.* When Eric was to be baptised, I had to go to the priest at the groovy multi-faith center at American University (where I was in grad school) and ask him to write a letter on my behalf. Basically I lied. When he mentioned that he didn't recognise me from services, I assured him that I was a faithful member of the parish. He wrote the letter, and proof that I was a true Catholic, I felt very guilty about it after the fact.
Within a year or two, Eric will be Confirmed in the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Faith. As his godfather, I hope to "stand" for him, and towards that end, I have begun going to church again to establish my Catholic credentials. I just don't feel like lying to a priest again.
I found a church in my neighborhood that has English-language Mass on Sunday's, albeit with an accent I can't quite place. I've gone the last few weeks and while it's not as satisfying as the church in Spanish Harlem (which had a congregation of Hispanic families that would pack the hall, overseen by a fiesty Irish priest who made a point of commemorating the 20th anniversary of AIDS and its victims, as well as writing angry letters to city councilmen about the rat problem in Spanish Harlem), it is not as soul-draining as the church I grew up in. I like it. It's peaceful...and while I was walking to church this past Sunday, I found a $20 bill on the sidewalk! Proof that the Lord rewards those who honor Him/Her. After mass, I rewarded myself with a turkey club at a local diner. God it was good.
Now, that would be the end of my "do well and you will be rewarded" theory, but tonight, while I was walking home, two girls asked if I would help carry their heavy tv up two flights of stairs to their apartment. I said sure. We then had to wait for them to ask another unsuspecting guy walking down the street. She had asked some guy sitting on the stairs to his apartment building, but unconvincingly said that his back couldn't take carrying a tv up a flight of stairs. I suspect the real reason is the he was an asshole. Even if he had carried the tv upstairs, his striped rugby shirt (which no man should wear once they're old enough to attend a prom) would have signaled him an asshole. Happily, a pleasant gentleman soon wandered down the street, and before long, he and I were soon lugging the tv up to a second floor apartment.
I think one of the main reasons I was so willing to help out was that I was once in a similar situation. When I bought my present tv (flat screen, beautiful image, heavy as lead), one of my neighbors (who I didn't know) volunteered to help me carry it up to my third floor apartment. So it was the golden rule in reverse: do unto others as others have done unto you.
After lugging the tv upstairs, one of the girls thanked my and pressed $20 in my hand. Despite my protests, she insisted I take the money for helping out. I fough the temptation to wave it in front of the face of the stair-sitting, rugby-shirt wearing asshole. Instead I reflected on what seems to be a new spiritual law: Do the right thing for other people, without any expectation of reward, and you'll get $20!
And to think some of my friends don't believe...
*Happily, stigmata is no longer a requirement.