Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How to piss off an entire Catholic congregation

So before I get started on this (sadly) true story, I just wanted to wish everyone a happy...good lord, how many events can we pack into one weekend? Okay, here we go: Happy belated Lincoln's Birthday, Valentine's Day, Chinese New Year, and President's Day; and Happy Mardi Gras today. And Happy Ash Wednesday tomorrow.

Also, Benni surprised me and planned a getaway to Seattle for Valentine's Day weekend, so tomorrow or Thursday I should get around to posting the three gazillion pictures I took during our trip, only I promise I'll narrow it down. To one million. But today...today is a story about Ash Wednesday.

What you should know from the beginning is that I'm not Catholic. I was not raised Catholic, I have very little experience with Catholicism besides debating my two best friends in high school (both of whom were raised Catholic) about the nature of birth control and suicide (in that order) and while I have nothing against Catholicism, as some of my nearest and dearest are Catholic, I am woefully ignorant when it comes to Catholic beliefs, practices, and rituals.

This would become painfully clear on one fateful Ash Wednesday.

In seventh/eighth/ninth grade (it all blurs together after awhile) we had a sort of cultural exchange project that we had to undertake - which meant we, sheltered junior high students that we were, were charged with the assignment to go outside our comfort zone by going to a restaurant that served different food, partaking in worshiping a religion different from the one we were raised in, or attending any other type of cultural event with which we were not familiar. Most students hated this project because the goal of it was to make yourself uncomfortable. But me? I was all for it.

See, I have this really cute personality trait that most people call "Leaps Before She Looks," which usually ends up with me having egg (or blood) on my face and my feet in my mouth. I rush in, totally confident and enthusiastic, to less than stellar results sometimes. It's why in my profile I took the time to mention I was "accident-prone."

One of my Catholic best friends kindly took it upon herself to invite me to her church's Ash Wednesday service, which I attended with her immediate family and grandparents. We settled in to church and things seemed to be going well enough (lots of standing up and sitting down, do they do that to keep you awake?) when the hitch in the plan was revealed: no one took the time to explain to me what the hell was going on.

So when someone smeared dirt on my forehead, no one really explained why. In fact, asking questions about why there was now dirt on my forehead was being actively discouraged, so I just sat there and assumed that here I was, getting cultured, and at some point somebody would tell me something.

Wrong.

And this, in fact, would have been fine, it would have been perfectly okay for me to not know why there was ashes (not dirt, as I learned later) smudged onto my forehead, except that I also didn't know that I wasn't supposed to wash them off.

In the church.

Using the basin of holy water at the front.

Yeah, that happened.

So I'm splashing around in the water, rinsing off these ashes, when I start to hear what I can only liken to a dull roar, which is in fact the rest of the Catholic congregation realizing that not only am I washing off my ashes, I am in fact TAINTING THEIR ENTIRE SUPPLY OF HOLY WATER. There are screams, shouting, pointing, and I think my best friend's sweet elderly grandmother called me something bad under her breath. Those Italians, they sure can name-call, eh?

I'm steered by the elbow out to the church parking lot where the family does this James Bond-style toss of me into the minivan and off we zoom, everyone sitting there quietly with clenched teeth while I look around, confused. Was I not supposed to wash dirt off my forehead? Didn't Jesus frequently wash dirt off his forehead- no wait, that was his feet. But still?

I finally get an explanation that on Ash Wednesday, ashes are placed on your forehead as a sign of repentance for your sins. Which, incidentally enough, means that splashing around in the holy water to rub the ashes off is heavily discouraged. And in retrospect, it would have been really, REALLY good if I'd known that coming into this whole thing. Whoever said ignorance is bliss has never faced the wrath of a 90 year old Catholic Italian woman.

So every once in a while (okay, about eight times a week), my friends lovingly and half-jokingly tell me that I'm going to hell for whatever latest off-color joke or crazy scheme I've come up with. And I usually tell them, Yeah. I already know I'm going to hell. I've been headed there since seventh grade.


Happy Mardi Gras, everyone!

41 comments:

robert_dean said...

This is the best, worst ever, story!

Being raised roman catholic I could only imagine that you were one minute away from being literally tossed out by a few of the fanatics.

krista said...

i used to go to mass on the weekends i was at my dad's house and i would crawl all over the knee-rests and ask why i wasn't allowed to go eat crackers with the rest of the people. or there was the time i loudly asked my dad why he wasn't allowed to eat crackers. he was divorced. that was fun.

jennifer from pittsburgh said...

I love it! I grew up with a bunch of Catholics too, who were always shushing me or rolling their eyes at my sacrilige and heretical ways.

Gwen said...

LMAO!!! That is the best "church" story I've ever heard!!! XOXO

maggisaar said...

I love this story. Epic.

My dad once took us to Catholic Church for Easter, as he was raised a "good" Catholic. He brought us all in, looking our best, behaved for fear of death, and he's trying to play it off like we always to go church all the time. So he sits us in the pews, we are little angels...when my older brother MattSaar points up to a giant statue of Jesus on the Cross and says REALLY loud, "Hey Dad? Who's that guy!?"

Of course every head turned to look at us, Dad laughed it off nervously, and we were out of there right quick.

Silly Catholics. (The Pope scares me!)

maggisaar said...

By me saying "I love this story" I mean to say I love your story. Because it is epic and hilarious.

Dave said...

If I ever get a spare "get outta hell free card" I'll send it your way. In the mean time I'm off to drink some wine....

I'm NOT a VOLCANO! said...

Absolutely hilarious- Robert_dean is right. that is 'the best worst story ever!!!'

I am now following you- just happened across you, but you're great. I needed a laugh.

Robin said...

I'm not Catholic so I didn't that particular ritual either. And I am still laughing when it wasn't supposed to be funny, which probably means that if you're headed for the hot place for washing off the ashes as a kid, I am joining you on your trip for laughing about it as an adult.

This is totally unrelated, and I don't know why I thought about it except that it also really makes me laugh, have you read Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books? She's the type of character who would do exactly that sort of thing.

Anyway, great post. I think I might I have to forward this one to my mother. She loves Stephanie Plum....

Oh... and thanks for dropping in on my site. You make follower number five for me, which is awesome. Seriously. I think you're an amazing writer, so now I am NOT joking.

Bathwater said...

In my opinion the best way to stop being Catholic is to be raised Roman Catholic, how anyone can gone believing the claptrap of organized religion without questioning some of its hokey beliefs is beyond me.

Religion should be an unorganized process.

Lira said...

I think you should've been praised for your awesome logic pertaining to dirt on the forehead and water at the front of the church.

Okie said...

Hilarious. I've known people who brushed off the ash but never or somebody washing it off in the Holy Water. Great story. lol

Happy Hour...Somewhere said...

Oh, my. Angela's Ashes and now you~! I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic school from 5th grade to 12th grade, baptized, communionized, confirmationized, blah, blah. I shudder to think what you would have done if the incense had been spewed about. I have not gone to church since I was 18 (many decades distant) but I STILL cringe when I see people chewing on the host (the little wafer thingy). I thought you went straight to hell or at least purgatory if you did this.

I loved this story~! Thanks.

belle in arms said...

Loved reading your story. Fantastic!

Eeeno's World said...

I just laughed out loud, and slapped my knee. So funny.

Heather Taylor said...

Haha, I love this story! I was not raised Catholic either, but Lutheran and we did all the same stuff sans the Hail Marys and confessions. If you tried to wash your face off with the holy water, I don't think people at my church would scream at you (yikes!) but they would definitely give you the silent treatment and act like you had something growing out of your shoulder...I'd take the screaming and swearing in Italian over that any day.

Marion said...

Hell, girlie, you were just baptizing yourself! LOL! Phoenix, this is the best Cat'lick story I ever did read. Thanks for sharing, my friend. Love & Blessings!!

Jenn said...

haha i love this! how were you supposed to know? we catholics can be all rigid and judge-y. i would have laughed at you instead of being mad. i think it's endearing. :)

Ida Nielsen said...

Damn girl, you just had me laugh out loud in the middle of a cafe!! Hahaha! This is a classic for sure!!

Annje said...

That's hilarious. But I think the funniest part is that people actually got upset about it. Religion has a funny way of making people crazy.

Juliana said...

Oh my!! Oh my what a story!

Hey beautiful--I am doing an upcoming blog with rl friends and bloggy friends who have been told they look like a certain celeb. If you have a picture send it to me and I will link to your blog. It is going to be a lot of fun and many people are playing along. oxoxox

B. Nagel said...

Brilliant story. Don't you just love when your own ignorance comes up against assumed cultural knowledge? Makes for all kinds of tension and funky subtext.

Sounds good for a script,too. Now if only I knew somebody who was writing one . . .

Diana said...

My mother needs to read this post!

As for the comment regarding the $50 Giveaway- we are choosing at random, and the blog post verifies to just comment- we never asked people what they are going to do with it. It's a bit also of a social experiment. There are few who are just commenting and not questioning, and the majority of the comments are telling us what we will do with it and frankly we don't care but people are so inclined to let us know.

Thanks for reading and for the support!

Barbara said...

I was raised Catholic so I can just imagine the reaction to your performance with holy water! To this day, it still puzzles me why people walk around with the ashes on their forehead all day.
I'm going to entertain my sister (who is a Sister Mary Holy Water- my nickname for someone completely and utterly Catholic) with your story.

Nahl said...

Haahaha...shit, is it inappropriate for me to laugh?
Wow, loved this.

drollgirl said...

gah!!! how horrendous!!!

i thought it was bad when i went to my first catholic wedding and i thought the kneeling bench was a foot rest! you have topped me! by far!!! HAHAHAHAHAHHAH!!!

Radical Bradacal said...

I remember you telling me this in college, and I remember laughing hysterically.

Wine and Words said...

Oh man. Yikes. Blush. All of that. But I still think cultural exchange is a great idea. I wish I could do it now. I am so curious. But we would have to give each other latitude on these leap prior look events. They happen often, and not just to you!

lakeviewer said...

I'm in stitches.

Angie Muresan said...

Yikes! Well, hell's gotta be made up of somebody.

Irenicineri said...

I got in trouble when I visited my friend's Catholic church because when everyone got down to kneel, I stood up. The lone, non-Catholic, standing in the middle of prayer. Huzzah, Protestantism!

Don't worry about going to hell. Remember what Gilbert's happy Bali medicine man said. He'd been to heaven and hell, and they were both the same place. It was the experience of getting there, the trip, that was the scary or wonderful part. :)

Giovanna said...

oh my god, seriously? how scary are 90 year old italian catholic grandmas? i feel your pain, but that is by far the best story i have ever heard.

Lori ann said...

i'm not scared about going to hell anymore if your going to be there.

hahahahahahahahahaha, oh tracy, you funny girl, i haven't laughed out loud since the hangover. oh, and at owen. but still...

♥ lori

lakeviewer said...

Thanks for the visit and the sweet comment. It made my day!

Grumpy Old Ken said...

Absolutely great! You might like my post dated 27April 2008. 'An OAP let loose.'
Next blog of mine is Brit humour. Would be interested what USA citizens think. Good luck, your writing is excellent.

LENORENEVERMORE said...

heeheelarious!
I went to a Catholic school when I was young~ the nuns were powerful!
xo

Shaina said...

Hi there! I came over from my BFF Jenn at Jeans Friday. Love the blog! And freaking LOVE LOVE LOVE this story. I think it's totally hilarious. I basically have no religion so everyone else's is such a mystery to me. How should you have known what to do/what not to do, you know? Gotta love it. :)

Purple Cow said...

This is hilarious!

Clarity said...

Bless me Phoenix, for I have sinned. It has been 2 weeks since last I visited your blog.... oh whatever, here, have some water to wash that guilt smear off your forehead.

I literally snorted (ladylike!) when I read the holy water part. That is so funny and frankly (and I say this respectfully) shows how some dogmatic people ought to explain their rituals before hissing at you for doing a totally RATIONAL thing. It's telling that almost all the atheists/agnostics I've met are former catholics.

I believe in God but I promise to never smear dirt on you or frown if you insist on being clean. P.S. you are not headed to hell on the sayso of others. Peace, X.

Carissa said...

I mean, you just have the best stories EVER. It is just too good for you to have even made up! haha. I would have been mortified and just reading it I am mortified for you but it sure is a funny story to tell now! gosh, I just can't even imagine... this definitely needs to be a scene in your life movie. no cutting this out. it's priceless! :)

Nickname unavailable said...

I love it!! Great Story Trace! And great Blog!!!! :-)

Blog Widget by LinkWithin