When the first Tweet you read in the morning is a Catholic bishop declaring that "Biden is not a real Catholic"
Forgive me, father, for I have drifted.
It has been almost a year since my last Mass.
In these many, many Covid months, I have kept close to home. I have read and prayed on my own. I have listened to the online journal of a friend, who is a priest -- a wise, thoughtful and compassionate one who has been dear to me for 30 years.
I confess that I have not listened to an entire virtual Mass. Last week I caught a few minutes of the one broadcast by my son’s parish. The readings, the sung responses and the prayers filled me with a longing that surprised me. I do miss the community of Mass, the feeling that I am not in this alone. Still, I felt that distance in me that makes a virtual Mass less than virtuous.
And then a friend sent me the following article from the National Catholic Reporter, a thoughtful attempt to explain the psychology behind the fact that the Catholic vote was almost an even split in 2020’s presidential election. Reading this piece reminded me that, if I am truthful (and confessions should always be truthful), the distance that I have been wrestling with these many months began before Covid-19 devoured normal life. I felt out of place at Mass before and since Trump’s election in 2016. I remember sitting in the pew, wondering who in the congregation had voted for him. Back then, it was about 52 percent of Catholics. And this year, the vote was almost evenly divided between Biden and Trump.
In theory, Catholics believe in the sanctity of life -- not just for the newborn, but for all the clay containers, made in the image of God, who hold it. We believe that racism, sexism, classism, any -ism in conflict with Saint Paul’s teaching in Galatians 3 that "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" is a sin. On the other hand, we do not believe that poverty is a sin, but enabling and tolerating it is. We try not to judge, but work for justice. Yet half of us chose a leader whose commitment to these ideas is self-serving fiction.
I understand that I am teetering on the brink of judgment here -- perhaps sliding into it altogether. But this is a confession, after all.
So, father, I confess to judging others, harboring anger, and condemning them for their beliefs. But what, I ask, is faith if it is not testing one’s “beliefs” against the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. And when we discover a conflict, shouldn’t we be the ones who own it, confess it and change our behavior accordingly?
Please, God, let me be guilty of that.
Here’s a slightly pathetic, but deeply pandemic note. I order my groceries online and pick them up first thing on a weekend morning. I use the store app to let them know that I am “on my way.” When I arrive at the store, I pull into a designated parking space and let them know “I’m here.” I wait a few minutes before a clerk wheels out my order to put the groceries in the trunk of my car. Often we just exchange a few words: “Did you check your substitutions?” “Yes, they’re fine.” “OK, then, thank you!” “No, thank you.” And I drive away, put my car back in the garage, carry the bags into my house, and put the food away.
But sometimes, I get the same grocery clerk. Young -- maybe in his 20s -- tall, very long dark hair. I can’t see his masked face, but his tone is always cheerful -- even in the early morning, at the start of what, for him, will probably be a long day. I don’t even know his name, though he always calls me by mine. (And, yes, I know he has a clipboard with my order on it, but still.) Lately, he lets me know that he remembers me. Today, I thanked him not only for bringing the groceries to the car, but for his polite, good humor.
“Oh, I love this job. I love bringing people their groceries,” he said. “It makes them so happy.” I was stunned as my mind filled with images of essential workers and then, immediately, by how poorly they are paid -- even as the pandemic reminds us of how necessary are their jobs.
“I wish you got paid as happy as I feel,” I said, all understanding of grammar and syntax flying out of my head. His turn to act surprised.
“Now Nancy, I am a crier and right now I am just going to load up your groceries so you can go,” he said with a slight quiver in his voice.
“Me, too,” I admitted to crying at the drop of a hat. He loaded the food into my trunk.
Driving home, I thought about how lucky I was. I have family members and friends and plenty of opportunity to talk to people from a safe distance or on the phone as this virus has so many of us sheltering in isolation. But these few words with this clerk -- I must ask him his name next time -- reminded me how much I miss personal encounters with strangers of good will. I miss that warmth-tinged-with-embarrassment feeling when someone I don’t know well acts in my interests with cheer and respect and then coaxes those emotions out of me. I hope that’s part of the “new normal” that lies ahead.
And now, some notes from the real world:
-- My grocery chain is closing stores rather than give workers a raise in this pandemic.
-- My alternative grocery chain is raising pay during the pandemic.
-- Last time I picked up groceries, I was heckled by a passerby, "What a f---in' lazy way to buy your groceries! Why the hell can't you shop?"
God help us.
I’m working on a 13-page bibliography for a biblical commentary that I am writing with a friend. Hours spent scrutinizing every entry, every comma, colon, period, and parenthesis; searching out missing publishers and page numbers; and remembering the hanging indent has taught me the following truths about myself.
Last name, first name, period. This is the way I grew up. Every adult was Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. LastName. And I followed this convention for all the years that I worked at a newspaper. Which often surprised the person I was addressing, as well as any of my colleagues within earshot. I think I imagined that the person I was speaking to was mildly flattered, even grateful, and would respond with courtesy. Today it’s FirstNames, often as OnlyNames. I kind of Ms. That Formality.
Title of work in italic, unless it’s part of a larger book. Then, it’s in Roman type, “enclosed in quotation marks,” followed by a period. Then comes a fragment in Roman and italic type: In Title of Larger Work. I’m thinking this is like my life -- “A Series of Smaller Lessons and Discoveries.” In What I’ve Learned in a Lifetime.
But, if the larger title was edited by someone else, which -- let’s face it -- most of our work is, the Title is followed by a comma, and then the phrase (in Roman type): edited by first and last name of editor(s). As in, What I’ve Learned in a Lifetime, edited by My Parents, My Teachers, My Mentors, My Family, et al. Et al., is an abbreviation used for multiple editors. Then the Title-edited-by phrase ends with a period.
City of Publication: Publisher, year. After wading through the first part of an entry, especially when it includes multiple languages, both ancient and modern, this is like a reward. Every detail is pretty easy to track down if the writer hasn’t included it in a footnote. I have, on occasion, been guilty. Thank heaven for Google. My publication information: Tiny Idaho Town: Haughts, 1954.
And finally, the hanging indent. The first line of an entry starts flush left and runs across the page. Subsequent lines of an entry are supposed to be indented, like this one.
I have no idea how I just did that.
Hanging indents are a ridiculous, multi-step process on this friggin’ computer program, which has threatened my last shreds of patience and concentration for the past four days so that I finally had to take a break or brake. There now. That is all.