A couple of years ago my wife had dragged me to one of her biannual trips to a Catholic Church. This is not the sort of thing I look forward to doing because I’m not a fan of the way that some in the church choose to demonize gay people. Then there is that little global sex abuse scandal that the church likes to sweep under a rug. However Jess grew up in a household where the church held a central role in her family’s life. Her parents are still very devout Catholics, and so every now and then Jessie feels compelled to go to church because its what her family has always done. So I chose to set politics aside and tag along for the ride, because doing things that you hate is what marriage sometimes is all about.
I found myself sitting in the pew alongside Jess situated somewhere near the back of the church, as a middle aged Mexican gentleman with his Sunday’s best on was reading a bible verse before the entire congregation. The priest, another middle aged Latino male, with a pudgy physic and a slicked back hair-do that made me suspect that he frequented the same barber as I, was sitting to the side of the altar facing 2 alter boys that were seated across from him. Every time I find myself in a church my eyes wander around the ornately decorated room and at some point become fixated at it’s main center piece; the image of an oversize crucifix. This particular church, which is situated in one of the more pleasant neighborhoods in Cicero, had its crucifix with a copper colored molding of Jesus nailed to it. It was raised prominently in all it’s glory up on the ceiling above the altar for all to see. A crown of thorn adorned the top of Jesus head. There was a faint look of longing on his mostly relaxed face. I find it so strange that for us (I was born into a Roman Catholic family too) that the most powerful symbolic image our religion is that of a 1st Century torture device used to execute prisoners and enemies of the Roman empire. I often ask myself if any of the other great religions feature such somber imagery, and perhaps in a sign of my ignorance, none ever really come to mind. I half jokingly wondering what would have happened if Jesus had been executed during the French Revolution or in Jim Crow era Alabama. Would we have the a small guillotine hanging on our chains, or would we all be staring up at the image of Jesus in a chain gang prison garb, strapped to an electric chair?
After brushing away my silly musings I allowed my eyes to take in the rest of the congregation. They are made up of a mixture of bored young Mexican couples with their figgity children, and older, silver haired Latinos with slightly bent backs, and life worn weary faces; who I imagine have been coming to mass every Sunday since they were children. It only takes me a moment to see that there is a contrast between the two prevailing age groups that makes up this congregation; and I’m not talking about the obvious age gap that exist between the two groups. The older followers are mostly there unaccompanied. Many of them don’t appear to me that they are following along with middle aged gentleman that has sought out the honor to assist the priest in giving today’s homily. Instead many of the older folks appear to be facing down, eyes closed, muttering private prayers that nobody can hear. I imagine many of them, especially the women are holding a rosary, but I can’t really tell. These folks are devout believers. They are here to plead with God to answer their prayers. Some are obviously asking for good health and a positive break in their financial situation, others probably are asking for guidance and forgiveness. But no matter what these folks are muttering, I get the sense that they have faith that someone is up there listening to their prayer. On the other hand I don’t get that same sense from the younger crowd.
I notice a young couple sitting about two pews ahead of where Jess and I are sited. They have two young children with them. One of the kids, a boy, no older than one years old, is in his mothers arms, trying to squirm his way out of her grasp. A young girl,around 4 years old, is seated closely alongside her mother. The stringy little girl with long brown hair that is tied in a ponytail, is better behaved than her baby brother; however every few minutes the little girl still finds a need to tap her mother in the arm to get her undivided attention, and then whisper something into her ear.
The young mother, a twenty something Mexican woman, with long brown hair that clearly illustrates whose hair the daughter inherited, is sitting there holding the energetic baby close to her breast. I can’t help but give the young mother some credit, because although I can’t quite see her face yet, her overall body language doesn’t show a hint of frustration, despite the fact that her attention is seemingly being pulled in different direction by her children. Eventually I get a good look at the profile of her face when she turned to look over at her husband, or at least that’s who I figured he was, who was sitting at the same pew, but about 3 to 4 spots to her right. If it wasn’t for the fact that I had witnessed the little girl slide across the pew to whisper in his ears on several occasions, I wouldn’t have known that he was with them at all. I notice that the mother appears to be very tired. She had darks spots under her eyes that robbed her face of its youth. Her skin tone was a light colored caramel, which made me wonder if somewhere in her bloodline there was a Conquistador that forced himself upon an Aztec ancestor.
I never observed any other types of emotions coming from the young mother. She didn’t seem angry, she never flashed a smile, not a hint of frustration. All there was to see was a weary, joylessness on her face that seemed almost permanent. She looked over to at her husband multiple times as if looking for something, perhaps an acknowledgment from him. But for as long as I was there, I never saw her get one. He just sat there looking at something in his lap, perhaps a cell phone, or looked around aimlessly, appearing as if he just wanted to get the mass over with. The same could be said for all the other young folks in church that day. Most, if not all who were below the age of 40, were just going through the motions. We weren’t inspired by the homily, the well wasn’t being replenished of faith. We were in a way doing exactly what we all figured was expected of us, because that’s the way it had always been.
It was then that I realized that I, like the young husband that was sitting before me, hadn’t bothered to acknowledge my own wife. I peeked over to the side to see Jess still sitting there listening to the lecture, looking half bored. I guess she got that feeling that we all get when we sense a pair of eyes are on us because she turned her head towards me. She gives me this have quizzical look and mouthed if I was feeling alright. I give her a quick smile, nodded my head and mouthed back that I was ok. She smiles and sticks her tongue out at me like a naughty 5 year old before rising up on up to her feet, along with the rest of the congregation, as the priest came up to the podium.
That day I found myself in church because I was trying to be a good husband. My wife was there simply because she wanted to be a good daughter. All the young folks attending mass with their young children, were probably there because they wanted to instill in their children the types of traditional values and customs that they themselves had grown up with. And the elders, who had been coming to mass since the light of the sun was dawning on their lives and not setting on it, wanted to be in good graces with God. A god that to them was just one silent prayer away. We were all trying to please someone else in order to feel like we belonged. What each of us wanted to belong too may have differed, but in the end we were all their just trying not to feel alone, just like Christ did while he was up on that cross.